HOW GOOD ARE YOU?

HOW GOOD ARE YOU?

 

INTRODUCTION

The question, “How good are you?” can be an extremely provocative one. Therefore, it may necessitate the answering of several other questions, prior to answering this one. Some probable questions may be: What is meant by the word “good”? Whose standards are used to measure “good”? Is “good” rated in terms of degrees? And, how can anyone know the answer to that question? In other words, before one attempts to answer that question, more information would be needed. Hence, this writing is an attempt to explore the information necessary to help one answer the question, “How good are you? In this discussion, we will explore the following topics: (1) Knowing what is good, (2) Doing what is good, and (3) Becoming what is good. In order to acquire the greatest benefit from this discussion, it might be helpful for us to do a little introspection and rate ourselves on a mental continuum to determine where we stand.

 

KNOWING WHAT IS GOOD

We will now begin this discussion by exploring various definitions of what is “good” and what it means to be good.

 

Dictionary Definition

When the word “good” is used to describe a person, it usually refers to the character, behavior or tendencies of the person. In this sense, a good person can be described as right, commendable, kind, benevolent, etc.[1] Different disciplines have their own standards by which they define “good”. Therefore, the question should be asked, “Good according to whose standards?”

 

Philosophical/Theological Definitions

In this discussion, when we ask the question: “How good are you?” we mean according to Christian living standards. Also in this discussion, we will utilize some words that theologian share with philosophers in describing “good”, such as (1) Ethics, which refers to a code or set of principles by which people live. It constitutes what we “know” to be good or bad and right or wrong behavior. (2) Morality is the function of applying ethical principles expressed in your Code of Ethics; it is about what we “do”. And (3) Virtues which are the traits that develop as a result of continued internalization and practical application of those principles, while continuing to strive to exceed them. This is what we “become”.[2] Hence, when we talk about a “good” person in this paper, we make reference to one who is involved in a progressive, but, also an accumulative process — one who is moving from knowing to doing; and from knowing and doing; to knowing, doing, and becoming.

 

Christian Standards

The Ten Commandments

We said earlier, that every discipline has its own Code of Ethics — the rules that govern the behavior of people operating according to that discipline.[3] So in Christianity, when we ask the question, “How good are you?” the Code of Ethics then, comes from the Bible. God tells us in various places, the attitudes and behaviors He expects of us. The main Code of ethics came from God in the form of The Ten Commandments. Moses was responsible for informing God’s people of this Code, interpreting the Code, and overseeing the application of it.

 

The Greatest Commandments

 Jesus came later to fulfill the Laws and the Prophets. He summarized the Commandments into two and stated that “all the other commandments hang on these two”: (1) “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). And (2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). From these two commandments, it is clear to see that all who want to be good and acceptable in the eyesight of God, should do things on the foundations of love; anything else would be self-deceptive — a waste of time.

 

Jesus’ Standards for Disciples

As Jesus traveled the earth with His disciples, He demonstrated what it was like to show love and humility to the Father in Heaven and to show love, mercy, and kindness to the people of the earth. In the Book of John, Jesus gave His disciples (which includes us) a new commandment which says “34 …love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Here, He is saying that He is the standard — follow His lead. He is the good shepherd.

 

DOING WHAT IS GOOD

Due to the nature of man, history has proven that it is not sufficient to simply make one aware of a code of ethics and expect him to discipline himself accordingly, nor is it sufficient to demonstrate it. Nevertheless, much of the Bible is dedicated to teaching man, in great exposition, what he must do. This is done in spite of the fact that it is well known that ignorance of what is expected of man is not the reason for a man not living a life of morality; his unwillingness to conform to expectations (do) is the problem.

Nonetheless, the mercy of God continues to abound and manifest itself in an abundance of New Testament teachings. In addition, many Christian writers have also made valuable contributions to aid this cause. Here, we will explore some of these passages and writings. And as we do, let us examine ourselves to see how we measure up to the expectations in regards to our attitudes and behavior.

 

Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount

The first passage of Scripture we will explore is found in the book of Matthew, Chapters 5-7). Here, Jesus delivered His most famous discourse, the Sermon on the Mount; it gave us great detail on what God expects of as related to our attitudes, behaviors and even our thoughts. Jesus opened His discourse with the “Beatitudes” (the blessed are’s – blessed meaning “happy”) saying: Happy are those who possess these virtues; they will receive an appropriate reward. He, later, went into an elaboration of the Laws, emphasizing the stringency of this Code of Ethics. He explained that to even think bad things about others could put one at odds with God. The Master Teacher concluded this part of the discourse by stating that we should “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48).

Because of the lofty ethic in this sermon, many scholars believe no one can perfectly meet these strict demands. Many scholars held that this impossibly high ethic was designed to show us the hopelessness of achieving on our own, the righteousness that God demands; they believe it was intended to show the need to turn to Him for righteousness.[4] Jesus did say this path would be a difficult one (Matthew 7:14). In fact, He confirmed the belief that it would be impossible for us to measure up to this standard on our own; however, “this righteousness can be achieved through [a strong relationship] with God” (Matthew 19:26). It is not easy to do good, but it can be done. How good are you?

 

Fruit of the Spirit – Walking in the Spirit

As we moved along through time in an attempt to understand what it means to be good according to Christian Ethics, the Apostle Paul introduced a list of virtues that he said was characteristic of those who walked according to the spirit; he calls these virtues the Fruit of the Spirit. This list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). While these virtues are understood to be “infused” in us by God, empowering us for holy living, as one writer says, however, this is like giving us the potential to do something, which has to be developed and refined. He continues to say, “… there is no growth in the Christian life apart from discipline and self-control (‘discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness’ 1 Timothy 4:7, [New American Standard])”. He further states that “the Epistles are full of commands to believe, obey, walk, present, fight, reckon, hold fast, pursue, draw near, and love.”[5]

These are virtues that manifest themselves in those who love the LORD and walk in obedience to His commands. This list was set against a list of characteristics typical of those who walk contrary to the Spirit — according to the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). These are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like. Here we can see what we need to turn from, and what we need to turn to. How good are you?

 

Morality and the Christian Virtues: C. S. Lewis

Another writing that is worthy of exploration in regards to doing what is good and acceptable before the LORD, is one written by C. S. Lewis, who is a well known Christian writer. In his book titled “Mere Christianity”, Dr. Lewis wrote a chapter explaining what he calls The Three Parts of Morality. Let us recall that earlier, we defined morality as the function of applying ethical principles expressed in your Code of Ethics. In this chapter, he explains that in order to live a life of morality, our attention should be focused on three different aspects of life. They are (1) fair play and harmony between individuals, (2) tidying up or harmonizing the things inside each individual, and (3) the general purpose of human life as a whole.[6]

The author says most often we are concerned about the first thing only – if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, anything else we do is OK. But he says, without looking at the inside of oneself and working on cleaning that up, man is only deceiving himself. He further states that without good men we cannot have a good society; therefore, “we must go on to think of the second thing: of the morality inside the individual.” Then to take it a step further, he says that since Christians believe we can live forever, we, therefore, need to focus also on how we relate to our creator — do we work toward the fulfillment of His purpose? Hence, we need to focus on all three aspects of morality.[7] So, we ask again, “How good are you?”

 

BECOMING WHAT IS GOOD: Perfecting the Virtues

Now, we come to the third stage of growing to be “good” in the eyesight of God — growing in virtue. As we said earlier, virtues are the traits that develop as a result of continued internalization and practical application of those principles, while continuing to strive to exceed them. This is the stage of growth where we develop gifts and skills in the service of others. Remember, we did good works, even in the previous stage; however, in this stage, our growth manifests itself in a different way. In this stage, it becomes increasingly more difficult to distinguish us, from the characteristics of the virtues; we are more and more recognized as the virtue itself. As one writer puts it, “As a bar of iron, heated red — hot, becomes like fire itself, forgetting its own nature. So for those who are holy, all human affections melt away by some incredible mutation into the will of God.” This is when we love self only for God’s Sake.[8]

Now, we begin to function more in the capacity for which God created us. We do not simply pass out salt to others for flavoring — we are the salt of the earth; people are seasoned by our being. We are the light of the world; people are inspired by our being. But, as godlike as we are at this stage of “good”, we are not yet perfect; we still have to shed off this corruptible flesh. Dr. Lewis says, “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”[9] How good are you?

 

CONCLUSION

A good person is one who maintains a good relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us a description of this relationship in the book of John (The parable of the vine and the branches) chapters 14:30-31 & 15:1-8 and in other places. In John, Jesus explained that God is the gardener, He (Jesus) is the vine and His disciples (we) are the branches. He told His disciples that they were already clean because of the word He had spoken to them (They now “know” of His purpose and desires.)(15:3). So, now, He gave us the commandment to love one another –even as He loved His Father and His Father love Him. Love is the tie that binds them together.

As branches, we can remain attached to the vine if we continue to produce good fruit (do); however, we can do nothing on our own. If we cease to produce good fruit, we will be cut off from the vine and thrown away. Also, we cannot do things for others with “bitter envy and self-seeking in our hearts”; this kind of wisdom does not come from above, but it is earthly, sensual, and demonic. Hence, all things should be done with the meekness of wisdom, based on a foundation of love; James says, “…the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace, by those who make peace” (James 3:13–15).

As we abide in God through Jesus Christ, we may face many difficulties and hardships, but we should understand this to be the pruning process — something that the gardener does that enables plants to become stronger, and increase its ability to produce even more fruit; likewise, the difficulties and hardships make us stronger and more productive. At this stage, we are now sharpening up our virtues — showing ourselves to be His disciples (John 15:8). One writer says, “…at this stage, we “become” almost indistinguishable from the virtues themselves — loving ourselves only for the purpose of bringing glory to God.”[10] Therefore, if we remain in his love and keep his commandments, we can ask whatever we desire and it will be done for us. “By this,” Jesus said, “My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples” (John 15:8).

The Psalmist gave a brief description of a good man. He said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in his way. Though he falls, he will not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with his hand” (Psalms 37:23-24).

Now with all that has been said, we ask again, “How good are you?”

 

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/good

[2] http://www.correctionsone.com/corrections-training/articles/3225913-Ethics-morality-and-virtue-A-foundation-for-modern-training/

[3] http://www.correctionsone.com/corrections-training/articles/3225913-Ethics-morality-and-virtue-A-foundation-for-modern-training/

[4] Brand, Chad. 2003. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Holman.

[5] https://www.regent.edu/academics/academic_affairs/faculty_essentials/welcome/resources/Research_On_Spiritual_Development.pdf

[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperOne Publishers, 1952):72.

[7] Ibid., 72-75.

[8] Bernard of Clairvaux on love https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/bernard/

[9] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 93.

[10] Bernard of Clairvaux on love https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/bernard/

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