24 “I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.”
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.
With the rapid growth of social media the world is beginning to adopt a universal or common grammar. Spellcheck on our computers by default use American English, so even in countries like ours which have roots in the British Empire, it is becoming more and more acceptable to spell words like humour without the letter U, and most teachers would not penalise their pupils for spelling realise with a Z instead of an S. The more pedantic among us (I am very much part of that group) steadfastly hold onto the way it “should be,” but if you really think about it, in the light of eternity, how important is it actually?
I doubt that Jesus is really bothered whether we spell Saviour with a U or not. I would think He would just like to be our Savior, regardless of how we choose to spell it…
Another Americanism that has become part of modern society is in how we greet one another. When you say to someone, “How are you?” they often reply, “I’m fine thank you,” or “I’m very well thanks, and how are you?” I don’t know if you’ve noticed how much more common it is nowadays to hear the reply, “I’m good, thanks.”
Maybe it’s because of my pedantic nature, my theological training or a combination of the two, but occasionally I have to stop myself from saying, “No, you’re not good. In fact, you’re the exact opposite of good. You were born with a propensity for evil, and every inclination of your heart is only evil, all of the time. Fine and well you may well be, but I can assure you that good you most definitely are not.” (Or something along those lines…)
I think we’d all agree that if I say to you, “I’m good,” I’m talking about how I’m feeling today. I’m not making a statement about my character and my conduct.
But when Paul wrote in Galatians 5:22, “The fruit of the Spirit is goodness” he was not talking about our mood or emotions, but how goodness is to characterise our life. We are to be full of goodness. If you belong to Jesus, the Spirit will be working goodness in you. A fruit of the Spirit is goodness, and this goodness has both inner and outer aspects to it. Biblical goodness in this context addresses the state of the heart, as well as merely doing good deeds or behaving in a socially acceptable manner.
The theologian William Hendriksen refers to this goodness as, “Spirit-created moral and spiritual excellence of every description.”
It’s an inner quality of goodness that we are to have.
The fruit of this inner goodness are the products if you like, of works of goodness or kindness. It sometimes refers to the generosity that the inner goodness produces. Someone said, “Goodness is that virtue opposed to all that is mean and evil and includes uprightness and kindness.”
Goodness, as a Fruit of the Spirit, is an inner virtue that expresses itself in acts of goodness.
Now this is important because it goes right to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.
We need to understand that you don’t become a Christian from the outside in. You don’t become a Christian by starting to do good works. You don’t become a Christian by starting to reform your life. Christianity doesn’t just change you superficially.
Christianity begins with a fundamental, Spirit-driven change from within. The Christian faith is a matter of the heart. It starts by being born from above as God gives you a new heart. Remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3: “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” A Christian friend of mine wrote in his bio on his Facebook page, “I was born in 1970, and again in 1996.” I’d like to think that Nicodemus would’ve done something similar had Facebook been around in the 1st century.
The phrase ‘born again’ is also translated, ‘born from above.’ This is the principle that God was talking about through the prophet Ezekiel. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
What is being a Christian all about? It’s about being born from above, it’s about God making us new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
If you have ever wondered just how to become a Christian, you need to look outside yourself. You need to look to Jesus. You need to ask Him to save you. You need Him to give you a new heart. You need Him to give you a new life.
Once you have turned to Jesus, accepted the gift of salvation that He offers you and you are born from above, then (and only then) when someone asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m good thanks, because God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.”
Our goodness is something that is given to us – imputed to us is the theological term – by Jesus. In a word, we are justified. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is what justification means. Our sins were reckoned to Jesus, and the absolute and spotless perfection of His righteousness is reckoned to us. In Christ we are perfectly righteous. This is what Paul meant in the opening verses of Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”
That is what justification is all about. It is what happens when we are born again.
But our justification has great implications for how we are to live. We have to become what we are. Paul continues in Romans 8, “He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
We have been given the Spirit, and it is He who brings about the changes necessary in order for us to be able to live according to the Spirit, rather than the sinful nature.
The Biblical commentator Philip Hughes puts it like this: “The Spirit is in us to transform us and to ultimately bring our subjective state into conformity to our objective standing of complete righteousness. One day there will be a congruence of the two. Justification, indeed, does not preclude sanctification, whereby the believer increasingly becomes that which judicially he already is; on the contrary, justification presupposes sanctification. The old order of things has given place to a transcendental experience in which everything is new.”
We’re familiar with the term justification – it is what happens at the moment of conversion. Sanctification is the process of reaching the perfection which will really only be complete in eternity. Because of our sinful nature we remain works in progress. But as Hughes puts it, our justification presupposes our sanctification. Sanctification is the obvious result of our being justified in the first place. The only way now is up. He says, “the believer increasingly becomes that which judicially he already is.” We are completely born from above. In Christ we are perfect, and we have His righteousness in all its fullness, and that is why we are to die to self, and live for Jesus instead.
A Christian is someone, who, according to Ephesians 4:22-24, has “been taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Robert Haldane was a Scottish minister who died in the mid 19th century. He wrote, “As we ought continually and prominently to maintain that there is naturally nothing good in men, we ought likewise to give equal prominence to the fact that all believers, being born of God and made new creatures, work the works of God, and in their minds possess those dispositions which are produced by the Spirit through the truth. In our flesh there is nothing good; but from the work of the Spirit on our hearts we may be full of goodness.”
I think he’s hit the nail firmly on the head. There is no goodness in me, but through Christ I am full of goodness, and it is He who enables me to live for Him instead of myself, and to put the interests of others above my own. When I fail (which I often do), it is because I am supressing the power of the Spirit and putting my own sinful nature first. That is my struggle, and it is also yours, but in Christ we do have the power to overcome those failures. You’ll remember the quote from John Stott I used last week: “Our attitude to our fallen nature should be one of ruthless repudiation. For those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. That is, we have taken this evil, slimy, slippery thing called ‘the flesh’ and nailed it to the cross.”
Goodness as the fruit of the Spirit is the result of the Spirit working in us, conforming us to the glorious image of Christ. It’s part of our sanctification. The Spirit does not work superficially on you. He doesn’t just change you on the outside so that your outward behaviour is different. Instead, His working is deep and powerful. His working in you is a working that renovates, that transforms. He is making us good. He is making us upright. He is making us to be full of virtue. He is making us to be opposed to all that is evil. He is making us more like Jesus.
However, as we know, these things do not just happen. We are to be willing participants in this process of being more like Jesus.
Goodness as a Fruit of the Spirit is something that we need to cultivate.
God is working in you, but you need to co-operate with God. In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul urged the Philippian Christians to “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” This doesn’t mean we are to work for our salvation. What Paul is saying is, “You are saved. Now work and behave in a manner which reflects that inner reality.”
Galatians 5:24-26 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
So how do we co-operate with God? How do we cultivate goodness?
Paul tells us in Galatians 6:7-8 that we need to sow in the Spirit. “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Just as we saw with kindness last week, we have a lot more control over our ability to display goodness in our lives than we might realise, which ironically makes it harder to do these things.
There’s a story of an old man who lived alone in a mountain cabin. All he had for company were two vicious dogs that kept fighting each other. A visitor once asked him which dog usually won. The old man sat in silence for a while and then replied, “The one I feed the most.”
Whatever we feed the most will become stronger and more powerful.
Do we cultivate goodness like we should? What do we allow to influence us?
The goodness and righteousness we have in Christ are given – imputed - to us. If you are a Christian, the Spirit is within you, and the seeds to grow the fruit of goodness is yours, but are you cultivating that seed?
Are we co-operating with God in His mission to take His love and grace into the world, or are we stubbornly holding on to doing things for ourselves?
Each one of us needs to cultivate goodness. We need to do what the Holy Spirit urges us to do. Paul writes in Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”
Our call is clear: Cultivate the things of the Spirit. Mediate on them. And then, put them into practice, as Paul continues in the next verse, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
We must never underestimate the power of evil. It is so insidious, and so corrupting. We need to stay away from it.
Cultivate what is good. Think of things that are good. As Romans 12:9 tells us, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
We are confronted with much evil in this world. satan’s desire is to turn us from doing and being good. He wants to turn us away from God, to stop walking with Him, and to stop being like Him. The powers of darkness don’t want you to be like Jesus. They don’t want you to be good.
Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That would not be in the Bible if it were not possible. We can overcome evil, both in our own lives and in the world around us by cultivating and growing the goodness of God in our hearts, minds, speech and behaviour.
We are called to overcome evil with good, and I think if we were really honest with ourselves, we’d admit that it is actually a lot easier than we sometimes think.
Each time you have an opportunity, be good to somebody.
Forgiving someone is being good to them. Forgive people when they don’t deserve it. Before someone stops offending you, you can forgive them.
Kindness is the attitude of the heart we have towards people at being willing to forgive them and not be hard on them. Goodness is the action we take to actually be a blessing in their life.
Remember, whenever you are good to someone you shine God’s glory everywhere you go. This takes the pride out of us. We begin to learn that we are doing it for God and not our own glory. Shine for the King wherever you go by being good to others.
Homegroup Study Notes
Kindness (the fruit of the Spirit we looked at last week) can easily be confused with goodness, and there are of course, many similarities between these two Biblical principles.
There are however, many important differences.
Discuss some of these differences in your group.
Read Luke 18:18-22
If “no-one is good, except God alone,” how are we to bear the fruit of goodness in our lives?
The rich ruler made the same mistake as Nicodemus (see John 3:1-4). They both believed that goodness is related more to our behaviour, than it is to the inner rebirth we need.
How often do we fall into the trap of a works-based salvation, rather than salvation by grace?
Read Romans 8:1-10
Discuss how Paul teaches here that our righteousness comes only through the death of Jesus.
How do you understand the struggle to resist living according to the sinful nature, and living under the control of the Spirit instead?
What does it mean to say that we are to “co-operate” with God in cultivating the fruit of goodness?
Next week: The Fruit of the Spirit is faithfulness.