Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The fruit of goodness: what good is goodness in Christian salvation?

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

Today's post considers the Holy Spirit-wrought virtue of goodness. The word translated "goodness" speaks of bearing the property or quality of goodness throughout one's actions. As I was thinking on this particular fruit of the Spirit, I pondered on what exactly the relationship is between our Christian faith and good works. 

Much discussion has ensued for centuries among Christians on the relationship between faith and works. Some suggest that one needs not to have any good works following their salvation for them to know the assurance of their salvation. Other groups have made works such a necessity as to make it a matter of priority prior to salvation. Since so much confusion persists even to our day as to whether we ought to practice liberty or legalism (which was part of the big issues dealt with by Paul at Galatia), I thought about what scripture and Christians of the past have said on this subject. Below are three headings which I hope will aid us in thinking about the priority God places on good works in salvation, and why this fruit of goodness is so important.

1. Good works cannot save the soul
Since Paul is speaking of the status of Christians post-salvation with respect to the fruits of the Spirit, we will return to the place of works post-conversion in a bit. The above first-heading is perhaps the least controversial point in these thoughts. Ephesians 2:8-9 for example notes: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Other New Testament texts such as Romans 3:20 and Titus 3:4-5 uniformly declare that there are no amount of good works that we can do to contribute to our salvation. The Baptist Confession of 1689, Chapter 16, in its discussion on good works states:

"We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come, and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom by them we can neither profit nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins."

All who hold to the Biblical Gospel would find no conflict nor controversy here. 

2. A specific good work saves the soul
This second heading may, on the surface, raise an eyebrow, since it sounds in conflict with the first heading. I had just labored to articulate how no one can be saved by good works, and yet now, it seems, I'm saying the opposite. However, notice the language of this second heading: "a specific good work". The specific good work is none other than that accomplished by Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:5-9 highlights how we are saved by grace through faith in what Christ has accomplished on the cross, from His resurrection and as a result of His ascension. Moreover, not only are we saved by the work Christ did on the cross, but also by the "works" He accomplished in His human life from birth up until that point (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:21). Theologians will sometimes refer to Christ's life and ministry as His "active obedience" and His work on the cross as His "passive obedience". Both categories of Jesus' activities comprise the perfect righteousness He worked on behalf of believers.  The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes:

"He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin." 

The Baptist Confession of 1689 is very instructive on this point regarding how Christians' good works are rooted in Christ's works:

"Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as thought they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfection."

So when it comes to the fruit of goodness worked forth by the Holy Spirit, we understand Paul to be referring to those post-conversion good works that proceed forth from saving faith. Moreover, we understand such good works to only be valuable in so far as they are related to what Jesus achieved. We've seen thus far that good works cannot save the soul and that only a specific good work (namely Jesus' achievement) can redeem those who respond in saving faith. Now lets consider one last heading....

3. Souls are saved to do good works. 
Galatians 5:22 spells out the particular virtues worked forth by the Holy Spirit that evidence His empowerment in the Christian life. The fruit of goodness is so important, since it expresses the life-practical purpose for which sinners are saved in the first place. Ephesians 2:10 is often unquoted when compared to its far more famous forgoing passages of Ephesians 2:8-9. Notice what we read in Ephesians 2:10 - "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."

When I think of the relationship between faith and good works I often think of the relationship between a mother and her small children. Watch What happens when a mother is walking with small children. Wherever she goes the little children will follow fast on her heels. Good works in the Christian Life follow true saving faith. The purpose of the Holy Spirit's working forth goodness is to enable us to achieve the practical end of our salvation. James in James 2 reminds us that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (James 2:16-17). As the Baptist Confession of 1689 notes: 

"Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him."

Closing thoughts:
We looked today at how the fruit of goodness enables us to think of the relationship between faith and good works. We saw that no one is saved by good works. We then saw that only one specific set of works can save, namely the works of Christ. Then finally, we saw that we are saved to do good works.

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