PART 2: The Goodness Delusion

I’m a bit of a perfectionist which is always very difficult to live with when your far from perfect, so when it comes to art and drawing, writing fiction or blog posts I’m never truly happy with what I’ve done. But with that attitude sometimes I find it difficult to even finish something which I think stunts my growth as a writer or an artist. So, although I’m not fully happy with this post I think I just need to post it and move on. Maybe coming back to it again some other time and fleshing it out some more. I’m happy with the general direction of the post but not necessarily the full breadth and depth of my argument. In any case here you go.

PART 2:

The second question I thought about was what is goodness according to God, and how does it differs from mankind’s understanding of goodness? When we are confronted with God’s understanding of what goodness is we find it un-palatable. You don’t like it, it’s doesn’t sit well with us and we probably would rather dismiss it, I still do sometimes in favour of my own interpretation.

I said in Part 1 that what mankind believes is good is something that meets our standards and thus is worthy of our approval. If that is the case for mankind, if the quality of goodness of and object or person is based on our approval, if the thing is good when it meets our standards, than it should come as no surprise that it is the same with God.

According to God, God was, God is and God always will be the standard of what is good. That to be good a person must act and be as morally and ethically upright as God himself to be good, which we are not capable of.

MATTHEW 19:16-17

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Only God is good and to be good we must keep all the commands which we are incapable of doing.

PSALM 14: 1-3

1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.

2The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

God created everything and by his standards it was good. The created thing, the universe, the planet, the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the animals on the land and the humans he made to walk on this planet were good! That means they functioned as he intended. (Gen 1:31)

Romans 8:28 is an interesting verse. It says

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

So what is this verse saying? What is good? Becoming morally like him is good and being called according to his purpose. This is not a promise of earthly wealth or health or anything like this but rather it is a statement that those who will be saved by Christ for their faith in him will become conformed, morally conformed into the image of Jesus Christ the son of God, who is God, and will work things out for the good of his purpose.

It’s not about us getting something it’s about us being transformed, renewed to the state that God wanted us to exist in the first place and then being part of his purpose and plan. Unsurprisingly it is clear from this verse that it is an act of God not man in which we can become good, there is just no other way!

The Psalms are full of verses stating the goodness of God, the Bible is full of them as well but here is where we find it un-palatable because sometimes, or many times, we find God doing things we don’t understand in the Bible, things we just don’t think are in fact good.

We’ve established that mankind determines what is good based on what meets their standards of what is good which contradicts God’s understanding of what is good. To solve this problem we could go to Job where God descends on the poor wretched man who is crying out in pain and God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Saying who are you, oh man, to question your almighty God? What Does God owe you? And in truth that is a sufficient answer in some ways but in others it is not. It is sufficient in that the creation has no right to demand of the sovereign creator an explanation but it is insufficient because it is not the full message of the Bible about God’s goodness. Certainly it acknowledges his majesty which God wants you to know and acknowledge, but God also wants us to truly know and experience his goodness.

So we come to Question number three:

If God is truly good prove it!

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PART 1: The Goodness Delusion

This Monday I had the opportunity to teach at my Pastorate, which is a small home church that meets every other week. In this group we are studying the attributes of God in an attempt to learn more about him and in so doing learn more about us and our relationship with him.

This week, after a very interesting discussion last week concerning the will of God, I decided to talk on God’s goodness. In preparing for this lesson I had spent some time pondering several points. I was planning to cover the first two briefly here before going on to cover the third more extensively but just kept on writing on the first point so I split it into three parts instead. So here is part 1.

First, what is goodness according to man? Goodness according to man is what we deem worthy of our approval. If it is a created product it is good if it meets the expected function it was intended for, or the function we expected it to fulfil. A product may be good to the creator because it fulfills the function he expected but be bad to you and me if we expected it to be or do something different. The same thing occurs when it comes to art. The piece of art is good if it meets with my approval despite the original intent of the artist. It is hugely subjective.

The problem is that we maintain this same subjective understanding of what is good and bad when it comes to morals. A person is good so long as they live up to the expectations of their moral code in their own eyes. We dictate a person’s level of goodness based on examining them through our moral code, despite the fact that they, in their opinion, may have a completely different moral code. You might say so what? “To each his own.” How very postmodern. However none of us truly do ethics that way. We all bring our foot down when it comes to men like Hitler or Stalin. We say “They are bad and compared to them I am good.”

The best part about humans, and I mean that in a sarcastic way, is that we fall short of our own moral and ethical codes and thus we are forced to re-write the moral code to suit our own failings. Where do we stop? We don’t! “He’s basically a good boy, he just makes mistakes sometimes.” No He’s basically a horrible rotten sinner just like the rest of us, just like me. Where is our right to dictate the ethics of Hitler and Stalin if we are so week in our ability to set a standard of base ethics for all of humanity?

Just as the rest of humanity, the Church is full of fallen humans called sinners. In the Church, The moral failures consistently lead to a re-interpretation of the scripture to suit the readers understanding of goodness in an attempt, by the interpreter, to ignore the standard of goodness expected by the Bible. If a Church is re-defining the message of the bible to be more palatable for a modern audience they are trying desperately to re-define the standards of goodness in the Bible to meet their own moral or ethical code rather than allowing the morals and ethics of the Bible to change them.

Goodness according to man is subjective, flippant, frivolous, self gratifying and it changes with the wind all in an attempt to delude ourselves into believing that mankind is basically god, sorry did I say god…I meant to say good…

Teaching the Gospel: Step 2

How does the Gospel affect us and play out in our life? It does so in the all encompassing process of redemption and salvation where by we are Justified, Sanctified, and ultimately Glorified.

Justification:

We were guilty, sinners before our God, but when we believe God forgives us and counts Jesus righteousness as our own. We are justified when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our saviour and repent of our sins. Usually when we talk about salvation we mean that WE WERE once saved, we are talking about Justification.  This is our new life, this is what the Christian is talking about when they say they are born again, that they have believed and Jesus righteousness and death on the cross has made us right before God.

Sanctification:

Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives. In Sanctification we are BEING saved.

Even if you are not a runner you can imagine a race. You can imagine that when the gun goes off you begin to run hard and fast with great excitement; or maybe you start out more hesitantly and take your time. As the race goes on your speed might change, faster or slower, you might even stop to catch your breath, or you may trip and fall. Running a race is the example that the Apostle Paul gives for the Christian life. He is emphasising the need to run, the need to push on, to strive for victory.

The Christian life is a marathon and by faith you’ve been given the opportunity to run it. It is not easy but there is a great reward at the end but it takes perseverance to get there. The Christian life is not a ride. We are expected to continue growing in faith seeking after God, If we don’t we might not finish the race. None of us is fully prepared for this race on our own, but the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide and our helper, our coach. The lord gives us strength and with his strength we can persevere in faith.

The idea of sanctification might scare many evangelical Christians because they have been taught again and again that they are not saved by works and because of that any discussion of works and salvation in the same paragraph can cause them a lot of hesitation. However the Bible clearly teaches that the response to the unmerited justification that we receive from Christ is good works, again and again and again and again the Bible makes this clear. You see those who are saved by grace not by works are saved by grace to good works.

When I speak of works I speak of the outpouring of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. John makes it clear in 1 john that if we are Christian we are assured if our new life produces love for others. So how can we know we are on the path of sanctification and are being saved? We can know by the state of our heart. If our heart’s deepest desire is to learn how to love God and others more we are on the right track. It doesn’t mean we are perfect yet. The works we produce gain us no special merit but serve as a reflection of an internal change, if these works of love are absent then can it be said of a person that they are saved? The Bible says no.

Glorification:

Glorification is the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunite them with their soul, and change the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.

Glorification is what we are striving towards, the prize, the goal the gift from God to those who faithfully persevere. It is in Glorification that we WILL be saved.

What does it benefit a person to begin the race, to lose sight of the goal and fall away or stop racing? Nothing! Glorification is the end result of our pursuit of God and a life lived seeking to love.

Glorification is the final act of the redemption process. When Jesus Christ returns those who believe, and as proof of their belief genuinely continued in faith, they will be rewarded with a new glorified body in a bodily resurrection.

Conclusion:

This is salvation, not that we are saved, but that we are being saved by Jesus Christ. That we are justified to a life of sanctification and when we come before God we will be glorified and it is all a gift of grace from God, not our own power that gets us there.

Teaching the Gospel: Step 1

I was recently asked to revise our Churches Baptism Manual which is used in baptism classes. This is a task I’ve really enjoyed because the manual gives me the opportunity to examine the Ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s supper. But more interestingly it is challenging me to define the Gospel in a teachable way which even at college I was never asked to do.

So, defining the gospel is an exciting task for me and it is proving to be an interesting task. There is so much out there these days which defines the Gospel in reaction to a world that is trying to re-define the Gospel. For instance Greg Gilbert’s amazing book What is the Gosžpel? Is simple concise and easy to read laying out the Gospel in a very readable way.

However, I am tasked with writing a two page summary of the Gospel that is teachable. It is a challenge because I also want this teachable section of the manual to also be very robust. If it is to be part of a Baptism manual I would assume that the reader would have a basic understanding of Justification, the forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God, which is essential. But what I want to accomplish is an instructive lesson that prepares a person to be able to teach the Gospel themselves. I think over the next few days I will be working out my ideas here.

I’m excited to begin this project, really my first attempt at this sort of things. Well then where should I start? I’ll start with two views of the Gospel that are both Biblical. They are as follows:

 
God > Man > Christ > Response

  1. God is a holy God. Equally loving and Just and he has a plan to save us. (Col. 1.13-14)
  2. Man is sinful and unable to save themselves, fully deserving of death for our actions. (Col. 1.21)
  3. God in his love sends His son, Jesus Christ, who willingly goes to the cross, laying down his life of his own accord for our sins. Living the life we could not live and dyeing the death we deserved. (1 Cor. 15:3-5)
  4. Those who respond in faith and repent of their sins are forgiven and will have eternal life. (Col. 1.22-23)

Creation > Fall > Redemption > Consummation

  1. God is the creator God, he created everything that is and it is good. All of which was meant to stir up affection for him.
  2. Mankind has Fallen. We prefer creation instead of creator turning our affections away from God.
  3. Jesus Christ came to make all things new.  A saving work that is occurring.
  4. The consummation, the second coming of Christ the fulfilment of his saving action and the restoration of creation.

I believe that this is the framework, the twofold purpose of the Gospel, that I will take in explaining it.