Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 08/24/1997
Psalm 119:11 Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.
In looking at the practical application of this verse last week, we saw that mere knowledge of God’s will, mere good intentions, is not sufficient equipment for living the Christian life. We cannot trust God as we ought, we cannot walk with the Lord as we ought, without a firm grasp of two truths: the sovereignty of God and the goodness of God. Because of the inclination of our natures since the Fall, because of Satan’s strategy of temptation ever since he first began with Eve, and because of the very nature of the case, these two truths are crucial. You cannot seriously contemplate disobedience without denying, ignoring, or at least compromising one or both of them. Therefore, it is not enough simply to believe them, i.e., to give mental assent to them. Rather, we must constantly and deliberately be fortifying ourselves against the lies of the Enemy by beating these two concepts into our heads.
There once was a student of grammar Who was an incurable crammar. He studied his best On the eve of the test By beating it in with a hammar. (DTW)Therefore, a good strategic way to practice this exhortation to hide Scripture in our hearts is to identify, concentrate on, meditate on, and slowly digest the classic passages that bring these two doctrines to life for us. Last week we examined a multitude of passages on God’s sovereignty, his absolute right to our obedience. Today we will look at what may appear the more appealing side of the coin: the goodness of God. Together with what we saw last week, these passages of Scripture are the powerful spiritual ammunition by which you can defeat all the wiles of the Enemy.
There are at least three good reasons why we need to make the goodness of God one of the central objects of our ongoing attention. The first is because it is there. Because God is who and what he is, not only the Creator of the universe and the Redeemer of its fallen inhabitants but the irrepressible Fountain of all Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, any truth about him that he has revealed to us, any truth about him that we are capable of knowing, deserves our attention, our interest, our study, and ultimately our adoration and our worship. Even if it never did us any practical good at all, this truth deserves our contemplation merely for its own sake, because of what it is. Before he is good for us, God is just plain good. To fail to appreciate this fact is to impoverish ourselves and to settle for something less than the fulfillment we were designed for as his creatures. But I am sneaking good “for us” back into it again, am I not? Well, God’s goodness is for us—but it would be a good worthy of our appreciation even if we did not exist to appreciate it. God means good for us because he is just plain good in himself first.
Second, we need to study the goodness of God because we do in fact have a personal interest in it, that is, a personal stake in it. Our eternal happiness and fulfillment depends on the goodness of God, who is not only good in himself but good for and to his creatures, especially to us. To miss God’s goodness is to be satisfied with derivative goods that always run out. To know his goodness is to bathe in the very spring and fountain from which all goodness flows, it is to follow the river of goodness upstream to its source. This is what we were made for. Anything less will leave you empty for eternity; this leaves you fulfilled forever.
But third, we need to study the goodness of God because Satan has been lying to us. Satan is brilliant in his way, but he is not very original. He is still trying the same line on us that he first used with Eden in the Garden. Why change it if it still works? Satan wants you to believe that God is out to make you miserable. He wants you to believe that if you devote you life to him as you ought he will make you go to Africa to live in a mud hut and eat worms. (Actually he has sent me to Africa several times. I never had to eat any worms, and sleeping in a mud hut wasn’t so bad.) Satan wants you to believe that if you give up your sinful habits and adopt a lifestyle pleasing to God, you will never have any fun. Satan wants you to believe that if you live within the bounds of God’s Law you will miss out on all the most exciting, thrilling, and fulfilling experiences of life.
Satan has repeated all this garbage so many times so effectively that he has born again believers half believing it, and he has the world totally convinced. He is the greatest propagandist of all times. BUT IT IS A LIE! Before you leave today I want you to see how perverse a lie it is. Before you leave today I want you to see how wicked an insult it is to the character of the God we serve. The first thing we need to understand in order to see that truth is . . .
Goodness is not a simple thing. G. K. Chesterton observed that a man who shot his grandmother at five hundred yards would be a very good marksman, but not necessarily a very good man. The same stick that makes a good switch would make a bad walking stick and a worse baseball bat. When Bilbo said, “Good morning!” Gandalf asked, “What do you mean? Do you mean it’s a good morning whether I like it or not, that you feel good this morning, or that it’s a morning to be good on?” What do we mean by “good?” Well, that’s a “good” question.
In general usage, when we say that something is good we mean that it pleases us, that it is of excellent quality, and that it is perceived as enhancing our well being. We are naturally somewhat self-referential when we talk about goodness. But what does it mean to say that God is good? Now we think not so much of Gandalf and Bilbo as of Sam Gamgee’s first encounter with the elves. “They seem to be above my likes and dislikes, if you take my meaning, sir.” If to call God good is to mean anything at all, it cannot be completely divorced from the normal way we use the word; but if we are to call God good it must obviously mean something more. The best way to refine our concept of goodness as it applies to God is to think of some of his other attributes that are related to his goodness—for whatever it means must be compatible with them. What are they?
First, let’s look at God’s Righteousness. “Behold the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch. He shall reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Israel shall be saved and dwell securely, and this is his name by which he shall be called: ‘The Lord our righteousness’” (Jer. 23:5-6). God’s righteousness means that it is his nature to do what is right and proper; it refers to his character as the moral plumbline for the universe. Then we could look at his Justice. “Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?” (Job 8:3). God’s justice is his absolute disposition to uphold the standard of righteousness in judgment without wavering or partiality. The next attribute on our list is Holiness. “In the year the king Uzziah died I saw that Lord, high and lifted up . . . and the Seraphim called out to one another, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’” (Isaiah 6:1-3). God’s holiness is his transcendent separation from all that is evil, wicked, or impure. That leads us to think of his Purity. “And everyone who has this hope fixed in him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). God’s purity refers to the fact that he is unmixed, unmitigated, and unadulterated in all of the above; he is those things and nothing contrary to them. Finally and most importantly we can speak of his Grace. “For by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Grace is God’s unmerited favor, his disposition to show his mercy to the undeserving, the unmerited expression of his goodness toward unworthy sinners.
In this light, when we speak of God’s Goodness, we mean that it is his nature to desire and to work for the ultimate well being and fulfillment of his creatures, in ways completely compatible with his righteousness, justice, holiness, purity, and grace. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God’s goodness does not necessarily mean niceness. It can be rather formidable. As C. S. Lewis put it, it means insisting on turning the tin soldier into a man even when he objects, thinking the tin is being spoiled. It is God’s desire to work for the ultimate well being and fulfillment of his creatures, in ways, and only in ways, consistent with his righteousness, justice, holiness, purity, and grace—not for what they might think they want at the moment. (You begin to see the foundation of Satan’s half truths here.) This concept of God’s goodness may not be initially comfortable, but a moment’s reflection shows it to be a very good goodness indeed, far better than anything we could have devised.
If this is what God’s goodness is, then let’s look at some further biblical statements about it that can help fortify us against Satan’s lies. They begin with the very creation itself. The very first thing God did after the creation of light was that he “saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:4). Why is this mentioned in the rather sparse account of creation? Because it is highly significant. The very creation itself was an overflow of God’s inner creative goodness, and therefore the creation by its very nature reflects that goodness. Even all the corrupting of that originally imparted goodness that sin and the fall could do have not sufficed to blot it out completely, which is why “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Isaiah shows us that this goodness imparted to creation had us in mind as its recipients from the very beginning. “For thus says the Lord who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it. He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited)” (Isaiah 45:18). The goodness that God began showing to us in creation he continues to show by his Providence. He gave us the trees and plants for food in Gen. 2:16. He still causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Mat. 5:45). We are not to be anxious about food or clothing, for will not our heavenly Father, who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field, take care of us as well? (Mat. 6:25-32). “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4).
Well, if God is so good, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? At first blush this regrettable fact looks incompatible with the idea of a good God. Without getting sidetracked into the Problem of Evil, let me just say that there are many good answers to this question, but the one I want to point out to you today is that the Bible doesn’t see it as a problem. In fact, from the biblical perspective, suffering itself is actually the crowning evidence of God’s goodness. How can this be? Let’s try to follow the train of thought in this biblical argument: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of his righteousness at the present time, that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-6). The key word here is “forbearance.” God graciously gave our parents the freedom to choose obedience or disobedience. Their disobedience brought sin into the world, and with it came suffering, evil, and futility. So what does the word “forbearance” imply? It implies that God in his goodness has patiently put up with sin and the evil it brings all these years in order to bring the ultimate good of sonship and daughterhood to those who put their faith in his Son. In the short run, then, human suffering looks like evidence against God’s goodness. In the long run, it will be seen as some of the most profound evidence available for it. For God in the person of his Son has joined us in the very suffering we created by our sin, and out of that very suffering has brought about our redemption. This is the mystery of the Gospel.
Salvation then is the ultimate expression of God’s goodness. This has always been his purpose. “For we shall surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one may not be cast out from him” (2 Sam. 14:14). Only a good God would think like that—especially when we realize that what such thinking meant for him was the Cross. God the Father is portrayed as the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who runs to his wayward son with robe and ring and fatted calf as soon as he sees him afar off. Is this a God who wants to deprive you of any truly good thing? Here’s the bottom line: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32). How indeed? Goodness may not be a good enough word for such a good God. Truly we need a word even more profound than that, a word that goes beyond goodness. And we have such a word: It is grace.
When you find yourself hesitating between God’s way which seems hard and man’s which seems appealing, and the Devil starts to lie to you about how miserable you’re going to be walking with the Lord, you just take him to Romans 8:31-32 and leave him there! He will choke on it. He cannot stand that verse, for it cuts his lies out from under him and exposes them for what they are. Fill your mind with its truth. Meditate on it. Memorize it, and other passages like it. This is the sword of the Spirit, the spiritual ammunition, the heavy artillery by which you can vanquish every attack of the enemy. God is sovereign! God is good! How good? “He who did not spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?” Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams