The sixth fruit of the Holy Spirit is goodness. Greek philosophers argued more over goodness than anything else. One group of philosophers—the Platonists--“goodness” was truth. Goodness came from right thinking. Another group--the Epicureans--argued that goodness meant having pleasure. It was having an overall sense of well-being and contentment. Being happy was having a good life. A third group--the Stoics—said a good life was doing the right things. Our moral actions made us good or bad.
They all have their points, but the Bible doesn’t agree with any of them. The Bible connects a good life with God. You can’t be good without God. Honoring God is where goodness starts.
These three Greek views all have one thing in common. If you want to have a good life, then you have to pursue it. They may disagree what “the good” is, but they all agree it is doing one thing, not many. Platonists said if you want to be good, then you have to give yourself over to seeking truth. But you can’t be a part time truth- seeker. You can’t avoid the truth or else you might miss something that is the key to understanding everything else. Epicureans said you have to go for happiness with everything you’ve got. Stoics can’t do good some of the time—you have to do it all the time. Ecclesiastes 9: 10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
Christians don’t pursue knowledge or feelings or actions for their own sake, but for God’s sake. God is our ultimate good.
But what if we only halfway pursue God? Then we are worse off than the Platonists or the Epicureans or the Stoics. At least they know what they are pursuing. If we aren’t willing to listen to God and do what He says when He says it, then we are really just doing what we want. We don’t follow God at all.
A lot of people will argue with that. They say, “I don’t want to be a philosopher or a theologian. I just want to live my life and not have to think so deeply about God’s will. Why can’t I just live without getting theological or philosophical? I’m just an ordinary person living in the real world, trying to cope with tough choices, messed up motivations, and sticky situations.”
Ah, but that’s where we’re wrong! We already are philosophers and theologians. We think about God, and if we don’t, then we think about “the good.” We have to, in order to make choices in everyday life. The question isn’t whether we want to be philosophers and theologians, but whether we want to be good ones or lazy ones. Every choice we make is a philosophical choice. When we choose to go to college instead of working at McDonalds, then we make a philosophical choice about what constitutes a good life. When we go to church instead of watching a football game, then we’ve made a theological statement. When we change the channel, because the show we are watching offends us, then we are making a choice based on Christian principles. The only kind of choices we make are whether we will order our lives according to what we think the good is, or will we drift from one definition of “good” to another without choosing. If we refuse to choose, then we shouldn’t be surprised that our life seems at times desperately pointless and shallow.
We should seek moral wholeness. The word for that is integrity. Micah the prophet told us,
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Goodness isn’t just knowing good, feeling good, or doing good, but it is pursuing God’s good with your whole heart in all situations and at all times. Goodness is following God with integrity.
Not all of us grew up in the church, of course. But for those who did, let me describe what happens to us as we grow older. For most of us, there came a moment—usually at a youth rally or weekend retreat—when as teenagers we committed our lives to Christ. Maybe you remember such a moment in your lives, when went down in some revival and prayed the sinner’s prayer. At that moment, you dedicated your life to Christ, and declared that you would follow Jesus for the rest of your life. You meant it, too. That Sunday, you got saved and became a believer.
But then usually by the following Monday, things started getting complicated. You soon find that most of your friends don’t share your commitment. A lot of you high school friends are really Epicureans, but they don’t know it. All they want to do is have fun. Their life is one long pursuit of a good time. Soon you begin to realize that your friends seem to be having more fun than you. Their philosophy starts pulling you in like a tractor beam. You start to forget that you committed to following Jesus. You start making little compromises. Then you make big ones. You’re still a Christian inside, but you keep quiet about it. You may even start seeing yourself as “God’s secret agent,” hiding out among the sinners so you can secretly convert them to Jesus. But inside when you really think about it God doesn’t bring you any happiness at all.
Then you go to college, where you believe like a Christian, but party like a pagan. While in college you run up against atheist and agnostic professors. They don’t know it, but they are like the Platonists. They pursue the life of the mind and seem to find happiness being rationalists. You admire them, not because their arguments are necessarily all that good, but because they look as if they have it all together. They have beards, smoke pipes and wear tweed jackets--so they must be smart! You want to fit in with them, too, so you start to accept their semi-intellectual society with its commitment to doubt and skepticism. Even though you can’t go full atheist, you become something worse—a cynic about everything.
But you tell yourself, that you’re still Christian, even though God has no real place in your thought life. Between college parties and sophistic conversations, that old youth rally faith seems a little quaint. Even so (you tell yourself) you can still be a Christian inside. But you can’t be happy, either as a cynic or a Christian because you refuse to take a stand one way or the other.
After college, you get married, get a job, and start a “real life.” Now the parties and the intellectual bull sessions are over, and now it’s the Stoics’ turn to mess with your mind. It doesn’t matter what you believe or whether you have fun. All that matters is that you take on adult responsibilities. That you “do your duty” to God, country, family, and society. Life becomes about making a living, raising a family, working at your job, and serving your community. Who has time to question what is good or what feeds the Spirit—you are trying to survive.
We may make a lot of money. People may even admire us, but if we lose our integrity and leave God behind, then what good are we?
When we grow up, we have grown up temptations—temptations to drink too much, cheat on our spouses, to tell lies in business. Every day we have opportunities to break God’s commandments and no one is looking over our shoulders to see whether or not we remain faithful. It’s up to us to monitor ourselves. No one sees what grown-ups do until their sins come crashing in upon us.
Gordon McDonald wrote that where he grew up there was a big oak tree in his yard. One day it just fell down. Inside the tree termites had been slowly eating away its insides, until it just collapsed, even though it looked healthy on the outside. That’s what happens when we let the little compromises in our lives—one day we just fall down. Little compromises eat at our insides, and we lose our integrity.
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses His soul?” What do we get if we lose our integrity in the process? Are we choosing because it seems the easiest thing to do? Or are we choosing according to what is most likely to bring us closer to God, what is most according to His Word? If we follow Christ, then here’s what “good” means:
We do justly—that is, what is right. Justice is the will of God. When we take a vow to God, such as a vow of marriage or church membership, then we don’t break that vow. We don’t lie about others, or pass on lies. We do this not to look good, but because we are living under the eyes of God.
The Statue of Liberty is a good example of integrity. The maker of the Statue of Liberty made sure to finish the top of Liberty’s head, even though when he built it there were no airplanes. There was no way anyone could see the top of the head. Yet the maker of the statue finished the detail on the top. A life of integrity of is like that. It doesn’t matter if anyone else ever sees our life, we want it to be as wholly good as we can make it.
We love mercy—that is, what is helpful to others. We don’t make decisions based on what is good for us, but seek to help others receive mercy. We don’t take advantage of people.
President John Adams lived his life with integrity. During the Revolution, British soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing six men. Adams, an ardent patriot, defended them in court, even though his cousin Sam helped incite the riot. He showed mercy to his enemies for the sake of justice.
We walk humbly—that is, we don’t take the credit. We are not saints, but sinners. We can’t take credit for what we have done—we can’t even be good without God.
Let’s not any of us take too much pride in our own integrity. We aren’t that good. But we have a God who is.
Sir Isaac Newton received a reward near the end of his life for his scientific accomplishments. When presented with the award, he responded, “If I have seen farther than other men, it is only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” If we have any integrity, honor or goodness in our life, it isn’t our doing. It came from Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, who followed goodness and honor to the nth degree, even to the place of dying for us. If we have any goodness at all, it comes from Him. Our job, then is to do for Jesus what He has already done for us, to live lives of dedication to Him, and to do only that one thing alone.