Ethics: The Goodness of God & Man

This is the second of a nine-part series on Christian Ethics.

What does it mean to be a good person? Most people think of goodness from a negative point of view such as, “Not doing bad things.” For others goodness is more generic. We wish our loved ones a “good day.” Or we tell our children as they run off to school, “Be good today,” which is another way of saying, “Stay out of trouble.”

According to theology professor Dr. Robert L. Reymond, “God defines his goodness in terms of sovereign mercy and compassion.” God’s goodness, the kind that He wants to have reflected in our character, is both positive and proactive. This means that being good is more than “not doing bad things,” or “staying out of trouble.” The Bible describes God as proactively initiatinggood acts to bring benefit to mankind (Matthew 5:45), but especially to those whom He has called His people.

How often have you struggled with a problem in your life where you knew the right thing to do, but did not seem to have the will to do it (sin)? Everyone has experienced this. It is a testimony to the scripture’s teaching that man is not naturally good; we are sinners. We have the desire and even the capacity to dogood things—but we often avoid good, or intentionally do the wrong thing, whether out of weakness or rebellion.

In this study we will learn about the differences between God’s goodness and our goodness, and how every Christian can discover the power available to him or her to become the kind of good person that reflects the good character of Jesus Christ.

Step #1 – The Goodness of God

God’s goodness is that quality of his character that always approves of what is morally right, true, and just.

“And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:19).

“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:5-7).

“For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord…Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 33:4-5, 51:6).

“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight…Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 11:1, 12:22).

Foundational to God’s attribute of goodness is His rightness. All of God’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are always right, truthful, and just. It is impossible for God to be wrong, false, or unjust. Therefore, God always approves of all that He does, and of all that is done by man that is also morally right, true, and just.

Think about these three important attributes of goodness: Moral rightness, truth, and justice. Describe ways in which your life meets or fails God’s standard.

God’s goodness is always demonstrated by His beneficial actions.

“You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:68).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creature” (James 1:17-18).

Theology professor Wayne Grudem describes God’s goodness this way: “God’s mercy is His goodness toward those in distress; His grace is His goodness toward those who deserve only punishment; and His patience is His goodness toward those who continue to sin over a period of time” (Systematic Theology,“The Communicable Attributes of God,” page 198). God’s goodness is proactive.He does not need to be appeased to be good, as if He were some false god or evil spirit. He is by nature always unceasing in His goodness all of the time.

God initiates good on behalf of even the undeserving. We call this “grace.” How has God been gracious to you, even when you have not given recognition to Him, His acts, or given Him your obedience?

God’s goodness is expressed to His creation through grace, mercy, discipline, and justice.

“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you” (Psalm 86:5).

“The Lord is  t good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9).

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (II Corinthians 4:17).

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5).

“For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Since God always acts and approves of that which is morally right, true, and just, then we can say that it is right for God to show mercy and give grace; and that His discipline and justice are both true and just.

God always expresses Himself to us with goodness. How do you express yourself to God, and to others?

Step #2 – The Goodness of Man

God created man to reflect His character of moral rightness, truth, and justice. Instead, man has embraced sin: Moral corruption, personal deception, and injustice.

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

“Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19).

“For 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” (Romans 8:29).

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Though God originally created man good (Genesis 1:31), man rebelled against God’s perfect goodness—sin. Man’s character no longer reflects God’s perfect goodness.

Explain some ways that your character is different from God’s character. How do you think God views your character attributes?

Because man is sinful his actions do not always have good results, or reflect good character.

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:14-24).

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:10-13).

Sometimes we do good, sometimes we have good intentions but use wrong behavior to achieve our goals. And sometimes our actions are wrong from conception to execution. We create many problems because of these sins.

If a person has many bad results from bad behaviors in his or her life, what does that tell you about that person’s character? Would you say your life is illustrated by good character, bad character, or character mixed with good and bad?

Since the expression of man’s goodness is marred by sin, God’s grace, mercy, discipline, and justice is required.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:1-6).

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:5-8).

The Bible teaches that even our best intentions and efforts cannot please God since we have character flaws that are not good. God therefore decided to do the right thing by showing us mercy and grace by sending Jesus Christ to die as the punishment for our sins.

We deserve punishment for our sins. How was God’s good justice served by Jesus dying in our place?

Step #3 – Becoming a Good Person

Through Jesus Christ man can live a life of moral rightness, truth, and justice.

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday” (Psalm 37:3-6).

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:24-25).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (II Timothy 1:7).

After Jesus rose from the dead He sent the Holy Spirit to live in every Christian, to begin the process of giving us a new heart and a new mind, so that we could better obey God’s law. The Holy Spirit empowers every Christian to live a life that is morally right, true, and just.

If you are a Christian, how have your thoughts, feelings, and actions changed? Is your character becoming more like the Lord Jesus?

Through Jesus Christ our acts of goodness can result in good effects, and reflect good character.

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Unlike those who do not know Jesus Christ, the Christian has God’s promise that our lives will have a final good result, and that our character will one day be perfectly good. Because of God’s love, even the bad things that happen, even our mistakes and sins, can be redeemed.

Since you became a Christian what are the results of your changed behavior? How have your relationships and actions changed?

God expresses His goodness through us in the forms of grace, mercy, discipline, and justice.

“Evil men  i do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely”  (Proverbs 28:5).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10).

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (II Thessalonians 1:11-12).

Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of God’s grace, mercy, discipline, and justice. Without Jesus we would be eternally punished for our sins.

Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord? How is your life becoming an expression of God’s grace, mercy, discipline, and justice?

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