Be good. It’s what God expects of his kids.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 January 2018
Ephesians 2.4-10 KWL
4 God, being rich in mercy, loves us out of his great love.
5 Us, being dead in our missteps.
He makes us all alive in Christ: You’re saved by his grace.
6 He raises us and seats us together in the highest heavens, in Christ Jesus—
7 so he can show the overabundant riches of his grace in the coming ages,
in kindness to those of us who are in Christ Jesus.
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.
10 We’re his poetry, creations in Christ Jesus,
for doing the good works which God pre-prepared. We should walk in them!

Too often Christians get the idea that once God saved us—once we said the sinner’s prayer, and gained free admission to God’s kingdom—there’s not a whole lot left for us Christians to do. We don’t have to earn heaven; we don’t have to do anything. We can just kick back, bask in the knowledge of our election, and wait for the sweet release of death—to be followed by the joy of resurrection and eternal life.

Yeah, no. God’s expectation has always been that now that he’s saved his people, we follow him.

True of the Hebrews after the Exodus. Remember when he rescued them from Egyptian slavery? (If not, read Exodus, or at least watch The Prince of Egypt.) The LORD saved the Hebrews—and as a saved people, he granted them his Law. If they were gonna be known as the LORD’s people, they’d better act like the LORD’s people should, and “be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44 After all, how are they “the LORD’s people” if they’re no different than any other people? How are we Jesus’s people if we don’t actually follow Jesus?

So in a word, God expects us to be good. To walk in the good works which God pre-prepared. Ep 2.10 To be the creations he always intended.

Goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we truly belong to Jesus, we’re gonna make an effort to be good. We’re gonna try to obey God. We’re gonna want to be good. In fact, we’re gonna get frustrated because we’re not as good as we’d wish. We’re not gonna like our sins any more than God does.

“Good enough.”

Most people, including most Christians, aren’t trying to be good. They’re trying to be normal.

The norm is the typical, expected, standard behavior of the majority of a society. In other words it’s what everybody’s doing. You’ve seen how it works in high school: If everybody in the society wears red shoes, and takes pride in the fact they have red shoes—and is embarrassed or ashamed if they’re not wearing red shoes—it seems red shoes are the norm. By whose standards? Well, society’s. The world’s.

That’s the problem. People who pursue the norm aren’t trying to pursue goodness. They’re trying to fit in. And norms change all the time. Used to be that men wore powdered wigs and hose; look at all the paintings of the United States’ founders and most of them are wearing just that. Nowadays men wear trousers, and any man who wears powdered wigs and hose is considered “cross-dressing.” It stopped being normal. We picked up a new normal. (After, of course, several intermediate normals, like frock coats and stovepipe hats. Wide lapels and wide ties. Clean-shaven, then beards, then clean-shaven again, and now beards again.)

Follow the norm and you’re “good.” Go your own route, and you’re “weird.” Not necessarily evil, because we’re not even talking about good and evil. We’re talking about norms. But it’s far easier to follow the norm, than it is to be good. So that’s what people do instead of pursuing goodness: They stick to the norm, fit in, and figure they’re “good.”

But it’s all nonsense. The norm of any clique, in comparison with God’s standards, sucks.

And though we Christians point out this fact regularly, we’re often chasing the norm, same as everyone else. We’ve conformed to the norms of Christianism: We do (or pretend to do) what everyone else in our church does. We do whatever the “cool” Christians do, however we define coolness. We compare ourselves with one another, and follow them instead of Jesus. ’Cause Jesus is a challenge. Fellow Christians are not.

In fact, some of them claim they’re doing right by following fellow Christians. Didn’t Paul instruct Corinth to mimic him as he mimicked Christ? 1Co 11.1 Shouldn’t our church leaders offer that Paul-style challenge to the people of our churches? And if they were actually imitating Christ—if his goodness was their actual standard—I’d be fine with it. They aren’t; I’m not. Jesus didn’t fit in so well with his society, you might remember. He called their norms hypocrisy. Which they totally were.

For certain Christians, they’re not even pretending to follow Jesus anymore. They’ve decided the best way to interpret the Sermon on the Mount is to imagine it’s an impossible standard; that Jesus taught these things to show people how utterly incapable we are of earning God’s favor. Now that they’ve figured this out—how clever of them!—they can figure, “Oh, so that’s the point? Whew; good thing I didn’t bust my hump trying to obey; wouldn’t that have been time wasted,” and they continue in their lives of self-centered sin. Instead of obedience they’re gonna take advantage of God’s grace. Being good? Dabble in that, and you’re trying to be saved through works-righteousness. Bad Christian.

But y’notice they won’t go too far with their lawlessness. After all, their churches have norms, and they’re not gonna flout the norms too far, ’cause they wanna fit in. They’ll be as good as their churches permit: They’ll keep the lying and petty theft to a minimum, and never murder, and keep their weed-smoking and promiscuity on the down-low. Their lifestyles will look good enough for church. But outside it, they’re no different than any pagan.

Or they’ll claim the word ἀγαθωσύνη/agathosýni, “goodness,” Ga 5.22 means something else. Like virtue, beneficience, kindness, generosity, uprightness, or any generic useful quality which doesn’t actually require ’em to be good. Fr’instance memorizing bible: If you know a lot of bible, you must be good, right?

No, really. Be good.

The only definition of agathosýni we oughta care about, is “moral excellence.” It means we pursue God’s will—how he wants us to live, namely at peace with him, our neighbors, and nature. Do what’s just.

Goodness isn’t a difficult concept. It only becomes one when we try to weasel our way out of it. And dodging goodness is an obvious sign we lack that fruit: We’re trying to smuggle our own desires into God’s kingdom, and hope God’ll bail us out at the End, when the time finally comes. We don’t really have a relationship with Jesus, and aren’t really suitable for Jesus’s kingdom.

A lifestyle of evildoing and lawlessness kinda indicates we’re not even in the kingdom. Nt 7.23 Scary idea, but true. No goodness means no fruit; no fruit means no Spirit; we were supposed to get the Spirit when we got saved, Ep 1.13-14 so either we never did get saved, or we’ve been resisting him (and his grace!) instead of embracing him and letting him save us. If you’re not good, better get that sorted out immediately! Repent.

No, it’s not at all because goodness gets you into the kingdom. It doesn’t. Only God does. Goodness is only a sign we’re already in. Don’t try to make the cart pull the horse! We’re saved first, good second. If we try to be good first, we’ve done it backwards. Nobody’s ever been saved by being good; they’ve only been saved by God. But now that we’re saved by God: Be good!

Pursue God and follow him. The fruit will appear, and salvation (and the rest) will sort itself out. Do nothing, and you might be trusting in grace for nothing. Because bad people don’t get to inherit the kingdom.