There's an App For That - Week 6 "Goodness"

This week I am continuing my sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit by teaching on "goodness."

When people I encounter find out that I am a pastor they tend to broach at least one of a few subjects during the course of our conversation.  They are as follows:

"I used to go to church... but now I don't"
"I was raised___________, but now I'm___________"
"I'm a spiritual person."
"I think that all 'good' people go to heaven."

From time to time I will also have conversations with people about why their church/denomination is better than mine, but those are growing more rare.

Sometimes I will find myself engaging all four of the subjects I mentioned in one conversation.
 I have found that most people want assurances that whatever it is that they are believing is working and will work out for them "in the end."  And generally, most of us see ourselves as "good" people.

Jesus said something really interesting once to someone who was questioning his teaching, and trying to assert a fairly finite understanding of goodness.   He said, "There is no one who is good, but God."  That's not good news to those of us who ascribe to the whole "if I am good then I am going to get into heaven."  If there is no one who is good, but God... then most of us don't have a snowball's chance in---well, you know where.

So who do we define goodness anyway?  The opposite of badness?  Doing what is beneficial to the most amount of people?  Keeping the rules and regulations?  These were all the things that Jesus basically dismissed, though.

How would God define "goodness?"  Check this:
Hebrews 13:20-21: "Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
What do we learn from this passage of Scripture?

First, we need to take the phrase "everything good" and break it down a bit.  The word for "good" here is agathos, which is simply dripping with "God-ness."  The nature of agathos is by definition theocentric.  The triune God defines what is good.  The writer of Hebrews assumes that the very God who called creation "good" has also declared the new creation that comes through Christ as "good."

But when we did deeper into the text, we discover some additional things that help bring this passage forward and connect it with our exploration of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-26.

First, the phrase "blood of the eternal covenant" is, quite simply, a new understanding of eternity.  It tells us that God has had a plan for God's people since before time began.  The eternal covenant is the ultimate bond between God and God's people.  The new age of God has begun with Christ.  This isn't about waiting for some future event when Jesus will return and snatch all the "good" people away.  There are new tasks, new challenges and new possibilities... now, not just in the future.

The passage says that Jesus was "led up" from the dead, which means that he traveled from the heavenly realms downward through time and space into the place of suffering.  Just as God led up Christ, we are led from death to life if we are "in Christ."

We also see an analogy of Shepherd and sheep, which draws us into the ancient world and into the cultural imagination of the Hebrew people.  Abraham was a shepherd, and it was to him that the promise of the Messiah was given.  Moses was a shepherd, and it was to him that the Torah, the covenant between God and God's people was given.   David was a shepherd, the great king of Israel through whom it was promised Israel would be great once more.  Jesus called himself the "Good Shepherd" who was willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

I love the story of Moses I encountered this week.  Legend has it that when Moses was tending sheep before he was called to lead Israel, he lost one of his lambs.  It took him a while to find it, but when he did, it was serenely drinking out of a stream.  "Ah," he said as he gathered it in his arms, "I see why you have run away.  You were thirsty."  It was then, according to the legend, that God knew he was the man to lead his wayward people.

When we are seeking an understanding of what is "good" to God, we need look no further than his very will itself.  We also see that God seeks to prepare those who are in Christ to do the very good things that God himself has been at work doing and then some.  Those who follow Christ are "katanzio," prepared or equipped to do the will of God.  To do good it seems is to faithfully do what God expects.  God then is the kind of God who shows us his will and then equips us to do it. The word "katanzio" carries with it a sense of training---like an athlete trains for a match or a game. 

When I read this, I hear a Rocky training montage in my head.  Sort of like this one:

I've always loved how the movie portrayed the Russians as all high tech and sophisticated with Drago training like a machine.  And Rocky is just a down to earth, man of the people, training in the snow.  Gotta love the Cold War propaganda! 

And the only real way to be prepared, to get equipped, to train in such a way that we are ready to do God's "good and perfect" will is to follow Jesus as closely as we can. 

So what is God's will?

We can see it outlined here in Hebrews, but highlighted throughout Scripture. 

God's will includes Resurrection.  It is God's will that death and sin not get the last word.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God accomplished the first of many acts of resurrection that would follow.  Resurrection is happening all around us, in us and through us---but it's difficult for us to join God in His resurrection work when we are journeying far from His Son, who was the first "among the living" as Paul wrote.

God's will includes Redemption.  Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was breaking through all around us.  We just don't often see it because we're not looking for it.  But when we do see those kingdom moments, we are overwhelmed by them.  We are called to work for the redemption of the world, to demonstrate God's kingdom with our lives. 

God's will includes Renewal.  We are trained and equipped to engage eternity.  Eternity begins now.  This isn't a "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder" moment.  God wants us to be the hands and feet of his Son Jesus Christ.  He wants to renew us in a new frame of mind, a new way of being, a new way of seeing and loving the world.  But renewal requires submission, and we need to struggle each day to submit ourselves to God's renewing. 

When we are close to Christ, we find that it is so much easier to know and to do the will of God.  The Fruit of the Spirit will then grow profusely in our lives and be evident to a world that needs to see that we have been with Jesus.  And when we find ourselves falling too quickly back into our shallow understanding of what is "good" we can draw even nearer to Jesus and be reminded that no one is good but God.


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