There is the light of a candle in every person relating to goodness. That light connects with the knowledge of good and evil. The good a person has is measured against the standard of man for what is good and evil. That is why the world can say, “He was a good person.” “She did good things.” Goodness is comparative, and its parameters are set by the verdict of man. Man’s judgment is based on standards these days of his own making.
However, what happens when the standard of man has fallen or been perverted by humanism or philosophy? What if the world’s standard of today stands in contrast with the standard of 200 years ago? Today a man is said to be doing good when he works towards the acceptance of homosexuality and the marriage of such practices. 200 years ago, such a man would have been declared evil, jailed or executed.
That shows us the arbitrary nature of the perception of what constitutes good. It has no fixed standard, so the prevailing thought of humanity becomes the standard. They had this problem in Isaiah’s time when good was being accepted as evil, and evil was embraced as good. When there is no standard to measure the continuance of human good with, then the people begin to do what they consider right in their own eyes.
The light of a candle sheds it rays but a short distance, and that is why the conscience of man and his knowledge of good and evil is so limited. When you begin to appreciate God’s perspective on this, then you come to understand that the laws laid down by God for what is right and wrong are eternal laws and decidedly determine the destiny of not only the human race but the individual destiny of individuals. “There is a way that seems right unto man but the ways thereof are the ways of death.”
When the greater light of God illuminates the scene, totally suppressing the candle of human goodness, then we see what is the correct assessment of God in the matter. In Romans, Paul wrote, “There is none that is good, not even one.” Now we have a second standard that is God’s standard. The light of God will show up both the true and the false – what is good in man’s eyes and what is good in God’s eyes. The latter is the true goodness, and by it, all men and women fail. Each one has gone his own way, and each one is corrupt. There is not one good person on the face of the earth.
The candle in man’s soul is of no use ultimately because it is grossly flawed through the old nature that was corrupted at conception, for all are conceived as sinners and bankrupt morally in the light of God. It is no use using the light of man’s candle to determine what is good and evil. To follow the leading of the candle will lead to eternal darkness. It is only when man comes to the light, and he is revealed for what he is in the true light of God, that he can understand who he truly is in the sight of God. That leads to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
Jesus was met one day by an inquirer – Mark 10:17-18 “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ and Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.'” This man wanted eternal life but got a confrontational answer that turned him upside down. At first glance, the response Jesus gave seemed strange in that He deflected the appellation of goodness from Himself to God. However, that is not a problem as He is God, and He is good as He confirmed of Himself in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd and I know My own, and My own know Me.”
We have established that no one is good in the eyes of God, and God alone is good.
Where do we go from there in wanting to establish goodness? A study of Romans 3 is very damning of the human race – Romans 3:10-18 “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave. With their tongues they keep deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.'”
Human beings cannot establish their own goodness, for they begin from a corrupt base. The great thing about Romans is that it lays out the progressive steps to man’s righteousness, and therefore goodness.
In Romans 2:4 we read, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance,” that being “the goodness of God that leads to repentance,” in the KJV.
How does the goodness of God lead to repentance? We know that God uses judgment and hardship to wake people up then lead men to repentance, but can that be termed the goodness of God? J. I. Packer said, “God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward sinners. As such, it has the nature of grace and mercy. It is an outgoing of God in kindness which not merely is undeserved, but is actually contrary to what is deserved; for the objects of God’s love are rational creatures who have broken God’s law, whose nature is corrupt in God’s sight, and who merit only condemnation and final banishment from his presence.”
Thus it is that God’s goodness is displayed in love, mercy, and above all, in provision. It is that provision that bridges the void between God’s righteousness and man’s utter depravity. What is the evidence of His provision? His provision is this – John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” The provision is identical to that given to Abraham – Genesis 22:8 “Abraham said, ‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,’ so the two of them walked on together.” God’s provision to Abraham was the lamb, but the antitype of the Lamb was to come – John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”
Provision! That was the first step. Calvary lay ahead, for without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.
The blood of the Lamb secures forgiveness and redemption, the second process of God to complete the full transformation of human beings. The Bible uses different terms for this transaction – from darkness to light, the new birth, saved from sin, and simply but profoundly, “in Christ.”
When a person is born again, does that mean he is then good? Has he passed from bad to good? The old nature is bad, very bad, reprobate, and will always be until it is shed in the very presence of the Lord. We need to be exact here. Man in his own nature and humanity will never be good. Those who go to hell are not good. Men think they are, but that is not what God has decreed.
When someone is born again, many things change. God declares that person to be righteous. “But I am not righteous,” claims someone, “because I have this sin that causes me to swear or steal or lie or dishonor God. How can I be righteous when I do these things?”
The reason for that is the old human nature you will have until the time of your death or the Rapture if you are living.
You have the new nature when born again, and it is that new nature that points out the evil of the old nature.
That causes conflict, as we all know.
It is the new nature in Christ that begins to relate to what is truly good.
The standard of good and evil is found in the Bible and interpreted by the Holy Spirit through the new nature, so you know within your spirit what is of God and good, and what is not of God and evil. You should then be able to understand the stark difference between man’s goodness and God’s goodness. Of course, if you are a carnal Christian whose values are fashioned by the world, then you have whole confused areas in your life when you can’t tell true godliness from man’s goodness.
God’s values are determined by His holiness and righteousness. God’s actions will always be consistent with holiness and righteousness. The original universe was created in holiness and righteousness, but when God refashioned the creation from Genesis 1:3 onwards, at each step, He could say, “It is good,” for everything God does is good. Think about it; even judgment is good because it is in accordance with His holiness and righteousness.
Those two attributes of God, holiness and righteousness, have become the two defining qualities that God clothes His redeemed children with. Our original righteousness is depraved unrighteousness, and our original holiness is depraved iniquity. They sit comfortably with the old nature.
However, our new holiness and righteousness are appropriated. They belong to the new nature and originate with God. The following verse speaks of substitution and appropriation: 2Corinthians 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Then there is this verse regarding the Spirit of Holiness granted to us that we might be made holy and truly good – John 16:13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak, and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
The unbeliever judges goodness according to a depraved nature. The believer judges goodness according to the Lord and the Holy Spirit who indwells us, and additionally, the Bible. It makes all the difference. True goodness is to become part of our nature, the outflow of the resources given to us. We all know goodness is contained in this passage – Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
A FEW REFERENCES TO GOODNESS TO CONSIDER
There are several references to goodness in the letters of the New Testament, and I have selected three of them to look at. The first is Romans 15:14 “Concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.” Paul’s assessment of these Christians at Rome was that they were filled with goodness, a far cry from their original position as Roman idolaters. Of course, they now have the Spirit of goodness, an imparted fruit of the Spirit’s ministry. Goodness is the ability to do good for God and to our fellow Christians, which is probably the way Paul was meaning it. The verse was not unique for that assembly in Rome; it has the same application for all Christians of every age.
How do we do good? It can be a difficult question in difficult circumstances, in hostile settings, but it takes the leading of the Holy Spirit to enact those acts of goodness. Paul elaborated further on this matter to the Galatians – Gal 6:9-10 “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary, 10 so then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Verse 10 almost makes it mandatory for Christians to behave in this way, with special care to do good things for our fellow Christians. Some of us find it easy to do good to those of like mind in our Christian circle but stop short at extending that further to all men, especially the antagonistic ones, and some of us really are uncertain how to do that.
The second reference is this one – Ephesians 5:9 “for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” This is an interesting verse because, in Galatians, goodness comes from the fruit of the Spirit, sitting alongside love, joy, peace and five others. Here goodness is the fruit of the light (and not merely light). It was the Apostle John who said in 1John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
This goes back to the contrast with the candle of humanity; they walk in the light of their own goodness and conscience, though often they even choose against their own consciences. We walk in THE light, that same light that surrounds the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the divine light that guides us, imparted through the Spirit of God. The Ephesians verse also includes righteousness and truth, a most perfect summary of the all-rounded Christian.
It is even more personal than that. Paul states goodness, righteousness and truth.
It is God who is good, and we apply this to the Father. Jesus Christ is the righteous One, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. That makes us, as we walk in the light, the ambassadors of goodness, righteousness and truth — in other words, the ambassadors of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The third reference is this – 2Thessalonians 1:11-12 “To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
To be counted worthy of our calling is to fulfill every desire for goodness. It is one thing to have desires and aims and ambitions, but for some of us, that is all they remain; they never eventuate into the practical fulfillment where goodness is carrying out the work.
The light of man’s candle as to goodness has been explored, and we see on the basis of God’s word that all of the goodness of man, apart from a direct connection with God, is of no use whatever. Does that seem to be unfair that there are “good people” in the world walking in the light of their own candles, doing what the world recognizes as goodness? I suppose to us from the human aspect, it is. God is holy, and good people can’t enter heaven. Redeemed, converted people can, but not “good people” without salvation.
There is a test for their worldly goodness, and that test is according to deeds.
It is outlined by God for the great judgment ahead. This verse is well known and relates to the great white throne – Revelation 20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”
God’s penalty in judgment is commensurate with deeds, and those who were “good” in their deeds according to the light of their candle of goodness, God will acknowledge. Those who extinguished that light, such as the vile, wicked criminals and ones like Chairman Mao Zedong, will face a much more terrifying judgment than the person good in the world’s eyes. God knows the heart and motives of everyone, and all deeds will be judged, whether good or bad.
If you ever read this, and all you have is the limited candle of your own goodness, then we would beg of you to discard that for the all-revealing light of God, which is eternal. It will light up your whole being, to draw attention to your entire lack of goodness in God’s sight, and show you the way to the foot of the cross where you can obtain new life in Jesus Christ. You will obtain the discerning light of the Holy Spirit who will bless you with His fruit of goodness. Amen.