Impossible Goodness?

May 14, 2016  |  Craig St. John

By Deana Rogers

We think sometimes that a list of what is right and wrong is the most effective way to produce goodness. These are the rules, we say. Commit yourself to this list and our workplace will run smoothly, our family will be peaceful, our communities will thrive. But a list by itself never works. It didn’t work in the Bible, so it seems a little crazy to think that it will work for us. The law God gave to Israel didn’t produce godliness. No matter how committed a given leader was, or how emotional and promising the Israelites were, every time they re-upped and vowed to keep the law – it never lasted. The law on its own was never enough to produce the goodness in life that God designed for us.

Paul knew what it meant to be a law follower. When it came to the list, he was better than most people. He bragged to the Philippians about his “legalistic righteousness” (Philippians 3:4-6). But what the law produced in him was not righteousness at all. He hunted and killed Christians! His passionate adherence to the law produced anger and judgement and hatred toward everyone who didn’t think or act like he did.

The “goodness” on the front half of Paul’s story was an ineffective attempt to gain righteous status with God. But his conversion on the Damascus road one day changed all of that (Acts 9:1-18). Like Will said on Sunday, “When we encounter the resurrected Jesus, the furniture of our lives gets rearranged.” So when Paul was writing to Titus, he wanted to make sure that Titus was teaching believers about the goodness that comes on the other side of the cross. Front-half goodness wears us out and doesn’t work, but the goodness that is born of the mercy and kindness of God and is fueled by God’s Spirit in us is outrageously life-giving and changes us more than anything that comes from a list.

“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, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).”

Sometimes it seems like the Bible is calling us to impossible goodness, the kind of goodness that hardly feels doable – like the list we read in church on Sunday from the beginning of Titus 3. We want to be “ready for every good work … speak evil of no one … and show perfect courtesy to all people.”  It’s just such a high bar. Honestly, sometimes we are too tired to be that good. Are we exchanging the old impossible-to-keep law for a new one that is just as hard?

No! Thankfully, there is a much better way to be good.  If you missed the teaching on Sunday, check it out here. Here is a recap though, about the story of our goodness:

  • It is the goodness and loving-kindness of God that brings our salvation. Experiencing his goodness changes us.
  • Our regeneration – our becoming new – is an act of God in us. “When God gets his hands into the dirt of our lives, he creates something new.”
  • Grace justifies us – it provides a legal standing for us before God that erases our guilt.
  • God generously pours out his Spirit in us to produce the goodness he loves towards the people he loves.
  • He makes us heirs, sons and daughters of the King.

One of the things Paul must have loved about Titus was his nonexistent obligation toward Jewish law. Titus was raised a Gentile, and his belief in God was not tied to circumcision or dietary laws or even keeping the Sabbath. He probably ate shrimp and put cheese on his burgers. (At least he would have if that was a thing back then.)

I wonder if Paul was saying:

Titus – you are a picture of the grace of God in a way I cannot be. You are saved through the cross of Christ alone – as all of us are – but you don’t have obedience to the list to fall back on on those days when faith does not feel like enough. Teach the grace of God, Titus. It is God’s kindness that spurs us forward and makes our hearts beat faster when we have the opportunity to offer kindness to those whose do not deserve it. Remind the church that they have been made new from the inside and that God wants to love the world through them. He will be the kindness and the gentleness and the goodness that they are not in themselves.

 And remind them Titus, that they are heirs. Princes and princesses with every resource to extend kindness and goodness to the people that he love. He is their King, but he is also their Dad.  Don’t let them forget.

Heavenly Father,

We are your church in Tempe and Chandler and all over Phoenix. May we live this week ever mindful of your loving-kindness to us. Thank you for grace. Spur us on to good deeds, and by your Spirit, do impossibly gracious and kind things through us so that the people in our lives see You.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.