Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodness: A Fruit of the Spirit

The hero stays long enough to be sure the citizens are safe and able to continue their lives. He goes on to the next needy village, in each town met with both opposition and a grateful following. Without asking for anything in return, he does whatever it takes and risks his life to save the common people from enslavement and despair.

After some time of absence, his enemies begin to creep back in. First one citizen at a time and then groups at once, these wicked men reassert their power. With subtle trickery they ensnare the people, weighing them down with tasks and restrictions. When a brave man remembers the hero, the bad guys devise a new plan. They defame the hero. “He was a liar,” they say. “Didn’t he just come here to get power?” “He is not who he says he is, and has no authority to talk to you.” “You’re smart people. Does it make sense? He told you to change everything you’d ever believed in, your whole way of life. And now he’s not here. We’re going to stand by you and help you.”

It’s a classic tale of good guys versus bad guys, and the innocent bystanders used as pawns by the bad guys. Of course the hero is trying to rescue them, to grant them freedom from their self-serving oppressors. We have a showdown of sorts, some harsh words calling each other out. The little people hang in the balance, uncertain which man has their best interest at heart. Which man is telling the truth?

In such an epic tale of good versus evil, how do we decide? Who do we root for? Who do we follow? How do we determine which man is good?

The story at the beginning is the background of the book of Galatians. Paul is our hero, bringing the good news about salvation through Jesus to the province of Galatia. Wherever he went, he met opposition, whether it was from the Jews who didn’t embrace Jesus or from the pagans who felt threatened by a religion that worshiped God without temples, rituals, and idols. He also freed a bunch of people from the purposeless lives and oppressive requirements of their old religions. Paul taught the people about grace, about a God who wants to dwell with us – not in a castle on a hill, but right with us, even inside us.

After establishing the believers and teaching them for a while, he moved to the next city, running a circuit around the Mediterranean. In his absence, some Jews who infiltrated the Christian church, began to teach and insist that salvation was not only the work of Jesus; men had to add to it. They taught that to be saved and to continue to live a life pleasing to God, every Christian had to keep the Mosaic Law. This law included rituals about diets, hand-washing, illnesses, sacrifices, commerce, as well as moral regulations.

When the Galatians protested that Paul had taught them that nothing good they did was good enough to earn salvation, these false teachers challenged Paul. He isn’t an apostle, they said. He lied to you. He was out for his own gain. And now he has abandoned you. Many were swayed, and returned voluntarily to their oppressed way of life. Some wrote to Paul.

Obviously, we’re on Paul’s side, because he wrote half the New Testament. But put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes. How would you know which person was truthful? Which was the good guy? I mean, the Jewish teachers were all about doing good things. So was Paul.

Galatians 5 is Paul’s explanation for why a Christian is expected to do good things. Based on this chapter, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit at work in every believer. This is why a Christian may be anticipated to do good things: not because he is in need of goodness to get or maintain his standing with God, but because the works are automatic.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts this whole thing rather concisely: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

To God be all glory.


Brian said...

Being in that time would have been an extreme challenge, I agree 100%. Fortunately today we have great freedoms and even greater resources like the book of Galations.

Galations 5:15-26

Just because we have disagreements does not give us the freedom to live by the flesh...

...strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy...

John 13:35
Matthew 7:2

I think everyone has to inspect their motives, and go to God with them.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

I think that goodness is in the order of the fruit of the Spirit for a reason. We're doing one a week in small group, and just did meekness/gentleness, which is really dependent on faith (the preceding fruit) and connected to temperance/self-control (the following fruit). And LOVE, of course, is the first one. Love would also be - doesn't it go without saying - a good "work."

My life has been amazing lately, learning so much immediately applicable. As crazy and confused as I have often felt the past month or so, I can't imagine how I would be without the Bible studies and encouragements that have kept me focused.

That said, I think it has been huge in my life to have studied and discussed and been immediately aware of 1 Corinthians 13. I keep saying to myself, "Love hopes all things." "Love keeps no record of wrongs." "Love endures all things."

But love is still hard. Sometimes what it has to endure is really painful. And sometimes, I guess, love is misunderstood. Or we start with love and get distracted.

Thanks for the biblical encouragement. And for being a reader and commenter.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn