Goodness and doing good is a quality of God that is described in the Bible as one of the “Fruit of the Spirit.” Many today would say that a person does not have to have God in their life in order to be good. The Bible teaches us, however, that without God, all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6). For those who are united with Jesus, however, Ephesians 2:10 becomes their reality: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. How can we strengthen goodness in our life? In his book, Echoes of Heaven, Mark Jones offers us some insights about this. Try the following “exercises,” and see if they help you grow into becoming the kind of good person God desires of you.
Find strength in Christ: Hebrews 2:18 says, Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews tells us that because Jesus understands temptation—because he has been there--he will give us the strength we need to battle temptation successfully. However, we have to long for character; we have to pray daily for the strength to overcome.
Immerse yourself in God’s Word: King David wrote in Psalm 119:11, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. It’s not enough to have the Bible on the coffee table; we need to have it in our hearts. God’s Word is fundamental to overcoming temptation, but we have to know it. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Build some accountability into your life: Most of us struggle with accountability because, we don’t want anybody to know who we really are. We’re afraid people would be repulsed if they knew what we were really like on the inside. But we need fellow Christians who can come alongside us and help us stay strong. James 5:16 says, Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. We need one or two friends of the same sex to whom we can open up about our struggles, helping us keep on the right path.
Remember the devastating consequences of immorality: Numbers 32:23 says, Be sure that your sin will find you out. Sometimes we sin and get away with it for a while. But it comes out eventually. Before you take the risk, consider the devastating consequences to your relationships, health, reputation, and spiritual integrity. Garrison Keillor told about a man who considered an affair with a coworker, until he realized “his sin would be no more secret than an earthquake!” It would ruin him in so many ways.
Remember that failure need not be final: First John 1:9 reminds us, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Maybe you have totally trashed your character. Maybe you have really blown it, not just privately but publicly, and you are wondering if you can ever recover. Our behavior has consequences, but God promises that, if you really want to be forgiven, and you are willing to change, he is eager to forgive. Commit to building godly character. He’s a God of second chances.
Growing in goodness with you,
The month of June has been labeled “Pride Month” by American culture. On June 26, 2023, Community Christian Church member and follower of Jesus, Carolyn Smith, respectfully and concisely addressed the St. Johns City Commission regarding her concern about the drag queen performance in Downtown St. Johns as part of the Pride Festival event that took place earlier in June. In her comments to the City Commissioners she noted that she does not hate anybody (in fact, as a nurse she compassionately cared for all types of people) and she recognizes people’s freedom of speech, but she is concerned about a drag show featuring men scantily and seductively dressed in women’s clothing who dance suggestively, and in many other communities dance lewdly and obscenely. She noted that this promotes confusion and inappropriate behavior to children, subjecting them to adult themes, and that furthermore it is inappropriate to have this type of entertainment in a public venue for children to observe. Adults have a responsibility to protect children. She concluded her remarks by noting that if the Pride Festival desires to have a drag queen show, it would be better to have it in a building for adults only who desired to see that kind of performance. At the end of the City Commission meeting, Commissioner Jean Ruestman made comment in relation to Carolyn’s address, saying that she had attended the drag queen show and saw nothing wrong with it…in fact, she found it to be quite entertaining.
Commissioner Ruestman is among a trend in society today, promulgated by main stream media and government officials such as President Biden, who say that tearing down traditional understandings of human make-up such as recognition of binary biology (humans are either male or female) is a good thing. How are Christians to understand this issue? For one thing, the Bible is to serve as our “North-Star” for understanding who we are. In Genesis 1:27 we read, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Being made in God’s image means that humans are more special and precious than anything else God created. We are endowed with God’s character and sense of morality. We are stewards over the earth, charged by God to care for it and to use its resources for good. Unfortunately, because sin entered the picture of our existence, we are prone to veer from God’s character and morality, as well as sometimes to abuse the resources he has entrusted to us.
Being created as male and female means that there are only two sexes—two genders—regardless of what LGBTism (the ideology of gay and transgenderism) says. Our chromosomal make-up determines one sex or the other. Rare exceptions to this are caused only by anomaly and are not the norm. God created men and women to procreate, and only women can bear children once impregnated by the male sperm. This isn’t to be mean or bigoted or “against gays or transgenders.” As followers of Jesus, we do not hate people, but seek to lead them toward God and his truth, because this is how humans best flourish. We exercise not judgmentalism but discernment as we take a stand against the bad ideas and confusing notions that it is normal for people to be attracted to the same sex or to believe that men can be women and vice-versa. Again, these confusions come from sin entering the picture of our existence by our own choices, causing us to believe that truth is based on how we feel rather than on how God ordered creation when he originally made it.
As followers of Jesus, we always seek to honor him with our attitudes, actions and words. We do not honor Jesus with anger, vitriol, and name-calling; but neither do we honor Jesus by accepting sin, confusion, and chaos as okay. Christ-followers should know that it is okay to speak up for Christian values and truth…it is something we must do if we want to help people to flourish in life by becoming connected to Jesus and the transformation that comes through him alone. The Apostle Peter gives good counsel when he writes, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Not only are you God’s hands and feet doing good for others, but you are also his voice proclaiming salvation and truth.
In his blog for e2elders.org (www.e2elders.org/blog/find-us-faithful), Tom Ellsworth shares some terrific, yet sobering, insight about a man mentioned three times in the Bible. You’ve probably never heard of him, yet his experience is similar to so many Christians through the years and even today as we hear accounts of Christians “deconstructing” their faith and walking away from Jesus and his church. What does it mean to be spiritually faithful to Jesus, and what leads to unfaithfulness?
Faithfulness in a marriage means that you recognize your commitment to your spouse as a non-negotiable priority, that you don’t just survive but thrive in that singular, “so long as we both shall live” relationship. Spiritual faithfulness to Jesus shares many similarities to marital faithfulness. According to Romans 6, when we are baptized into Christ, we become united with Him – united with Him in life, united with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. When we acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, we make a lifelong commitment which demands our love and loyalty.
Spiritual unfaithfulness, then, is when this world displaces Him as our priority, or when our sinful desires lead us to compromise our integrity or morality. There are many tragic pictures of unfaithfulness in Scripture but one of the saddest is seen in Demas. That Demas should be mentioned three times in the New Testament is significant. As Paul winds up his letter to the Colossian Christians, he writes that “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings” (Colossians 4:14). In Paul’s letter to Philemon, we read “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers” (Philemon 23-24). That is exclusive company, a Who’s Who list of Paul’s associates. However, in Paul’s final letter, 2 Timothy, this is what he says to young Timothy: “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10).
Demas was in Rome during Paul’s imprisonment, but at some point, deserted Paul. He had not simply left Paul but abandoned him during Paul’s greatest time of need. Paul was facing execution. Nothing indicates Demas was weary of ministry or struggling relationally with Paul. No, this was a spiritual matter. Demas left because he loved the secular things of this life. The Enemy got to him. Paul’s burden is not just that Demas left him, but more likely that he had forsaken the Lord because he loved this world more. We don’t know if Demas ever changed or was reconciled with Paul.
God calls us to faithfulness – not just for a season but for a lifetime. Faithfulness is not difficult to understand, but it is challenging to put into practice. And if the Enemy got to Demas, he can get to us. How, then, can we remain faithful to Jesus? We must follow God first and foremost. We must love others more than self. We must be patient. We must be flexible as time brings change. We must be generous with our time and resources. We must stay connected with the church which is a community of believers.
God calls us to pass the baton of faith to each succeeding generation. If we are not faithful, we will have nothing to pass along, and future generations will arise spiritually empty-handed. Participating with the church in worship, Bible study, youth groups, and serving together help keep God a priority in our life. Let us live and work together in such a way that the gospel will light the way for all who come behind us. Let us be found faithful so we will realize the victory of our faith. “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
Staying faithful with the Lord and with you,
In the August 17, 2022 edition of “Our Daily Bread,” Alyson Kieda shares about the importance of encouragement to our life. She tells the story of how seven-year-old Thomas Edison didn’t like or do well in school. One day, he was even called “addled” (mentally confused) by a teacher. He stormed home in anger. After speaking with the teacher the next day, his mother, a teacher by training, decided to teach Thomas at home. Helped along by her love and encouragement, along with his God-given genius, Thomas went on to become a great inventor. He later wrote, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”
In the book of Acts we come across a Christian man whose name is Barnabas, meaning “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas was a disciple known for his mentoring and support of other people. He was originally named Joseph but received the nickname Barnabas for his notable encouragement to others. In Acts 15:36-40, we read that Barnabas and the apostle Paul served together as missionaries until they had a major disagreement about whether or not to bring along John Mark. Paul was opposed because Mark had previously “deserted them in Pamphylia” (vv. 36–38) when they were on a missionary journey. As a result, Paul and Barnabas split for the next missionary journey. Paul took Silas, and Barnabas took Mark. Barnabas was willing to give Mark a second chance, and his encouragement contributed to Mark’s ability to serve and succeed as a missionary. Additionally, Mark went on to write the gospel which bears his name. Eventually, Paul and Mark made up, because Paul later writes in one of his New Testament letters of how much comfort Mark was to Paul while he was in prison (2 Timothy 4:11).
All of us can look back and point to someone in our life who encouraged and helped us along our way. God may be calling you to do the same for someone in your life. Whom might you encourage? Perhaps God is calling you to be someone’s encourager today.
Be a blessing to someone,
There are some who will say that the earliest followers of Jesus never believed in his bodily resurrection from the dead, but that this belief in the resurrection really began much later after the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in an effort to gain superstitious control over the multitudes sometime in the fourth century AD. Is this correct? No. The fact is the Christian movement began with the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus right from the start, sometime around AD 33. Although some will dispute this claim, most Bible scholars believe that the resurrection of Jesus was understood as a bodily resurrection and not simply a spiritual resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, the apostle Paul writes: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the gospel message Paul had been taught, and the teaching he quotes in these verses is what he accepted within three years after Jesus resurrected from the dead, which is when Paul converted to Christ. Jesus himself spoke of his resurrection, the early church preached it, and that is why Christians must embrace it.
The New Testament Gospels emphasize the bodily nature of the resurrection of Jesus. He could be touched (Luke 24:39), his crucifixion wounds were visible (John 20:20, 24-28), and he ate food (Luke 24:41-43), which disembodied spirits cannot do. Furthermore, Jesus’ body was absent from the tomb where he was buried (Luke 24:22-23). The bodily resurrection of Jesus, including prophecy that God’s Holy One would not be abandoned to the grave, forms the basis of the early church’s preaching (Acts 2:22-36), teaching, and historic claim. The resurrection of Jesus became the central tenet of our Christian faith, and it is essential to Christian, Biblical understanding. The resurrection of Jesus is not merely poetical or spiritual, made-up ideology, psychology, or philosophy; rather, the resurrection is rooted in historical fact.
God in Christ became human, died to save humans, and literally rose from the dead to give life to humanity. And now, Jesus lives as both Savior and Lord over all creation, and he will return to raise humans bodily from the dead to judge them and to establish a new heaven and earth which is no longer impacted by sin and its consequences of suffering and death.
Is the bodily resurrection of Jesus important? Yes-siree! You cannot be a Christian without it. Happy Easter! and by that I mean Happy Resurrection Sunday!