During my first few years as senior pastor, I remember a thought I had nearly every Sunday when I was studying for and writing the sermon each week. I thought, “the people don’t need to hear this…they already know it…look at them…look how good they are. What could this sermon possibly say that they need to hear?” Twelve years later I don’t think that anymore. Why? Because I now know how bad my congregation is? No. First of all, I know I need to hear the sermon each week. I’m not perfect. And second of all, none of us are perfect. I have learned that our lives are more complicated than what we often convey. Just about everyone in my congregation has a family struggle or a personal struggle. Just about everyone has a broken relationship, a difficulty at work, a crisis. We never outgrow needing to hear the Word of God.
When it comes to growing the Fruit of the Spirit of goodness in our lives, we not only prune or cut away the bad actions (as we learned in the previous posts here and here), but we also strive to increase good actions. What are good acts? Or maybe that is the wrong question. People can look good on the outside, even doing good things, but it is possible that they are not good? Yes, it is possible to put on a good face, a good front, but for that outer goodness not to be flowing from a much more important inner goodness. Have you ever known anyone like that? A person who appears good, but it turns out there is another side to their life? Are you like that?
All of us probably have at least a touch of this reality in our lives, such that we are not inwardly as good as we want to be. We believe we could do better. We suspect God wants us to do better. That’s normal. We are not perfect. Our heart motives and actions rarely, if ever, fully align with God’s heart. But some people are highly deceptive, claiming to be good, doing some good things, but inwardly not so good.
Jesus once taught about this. Matthew 12:33-35,
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
How do we become good? Jesus says to become truly good, we must change from within. What is truly inside us will come out. We can fake it, but not forever. The real us will come out. Therefore, Jesus says, we want inner goodness to be the real us. So how do we get that goodness inside us?
Jesus’ powerful analogy of the Vine and Branches in John 15:1-10 helps us understand how we grow the life of God, including goodness, deep within our lives:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
We cannot become good on our own. We need to abide in Jesus, depending on the the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. The Spirit can transform our inner being so that God’s goodness flows out of us.
“God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good.” It’s a call and response phrase some Christians use. What I tend to hear more often is Christians saying, “God is good,” when they are going through a difficult time. God is truly good, no matter how difficult our situation may be. The situations of this life cannot change God. He is and always will be good. Goodness is his character. It is who he is.
Scripture declares unequivocally that God is good. For example, consider these psalms:
Psalm 31:19, “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.”
Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
Psalm 86:5, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.”
Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
God is so good! Spend some time now rereading these verses from the Psalms, basking in the truth of God’s goodness. Abide in his goodness.
But how does a person abide in the goodness of God? How do we do what Jesus teaches us to do in the Vine and the Branches. In the final two posts this week I’ll give some practical actions you can apply to your life, helping you abide in Jesus, and thus grow his fruit in your life.