• How to Live and Die Happy: True Goodness - Matthew 23.25-28

    Last week we talked about the fruit of the spirit “kindness.” This week we will explore “goodness.” The two overlap in meaning -- in fact, the Greek root word Paul uses for “kind” is often also translated as “good” in our English Bibles.  But there is a distinction here in the list of the fruits of Spirit in Galatians 5.22-23. Paul listed both kindness and goodness as separate fruits of the spirit to emphasize their unique meanings.

    What’s the difference between kindness and goodness?  Kindness is external. Goodness is internal. Kindness is how inner goodness works its way out through the way we treat others. In contrast, goodness is the inner virtue that drives us to do kind things. Kindness describes our behavior, while goodness describes our character. Kindness is about doing. Goodness is about being.

    Throughout the history of Christianity, kindness has been essential to the spread of the gospel. Caring for the poor, the needy, the underserved, and the outcasts of society has always been a hallmark of the Christian faith. In modern parlance, we call this kindness “social justice” -- but they are one and the same. Social justice is absolutely important, and very near to the heart of God. A disciple of Jesus must be actively engaged in deeds of kindness and social justice or they may as well be dead. (James 2.26)  

    However, “social” is only one dimension of justice. I believe we are also called to live lives of  “personal” justice -- or, to put it another way, personal “just-ness.” In our haste to work for social justice (to DO good) many of us  have forgotten the requirement of God that we should also strive to BE good.

    Another word can be used to describe justice: “righteousness.” Justice is very closely related to the concept of “righteousness,” which means being right with God, self and others. There are at least two kinds of righteousness -- public righteousness and private righteousness. Many of us are dedicated to public righteousness (kindness and social justice). At least we say we are.

    We believe in feeding the poor, clothing the naked, serving the least of these. But that is only one side of the coin. Are we also committed to personal righteousness? We might understand the importance of living lives that honor God and our fellow man by performing intentional acts of kindness, caring for widows and orphans in their distress. But do we also see the need to live personal lives that honor God from the very deepest parts of our being? Do we strive to have hearts that beat with personal righteousness -- justice on the inside?

    Jesus talked about superficial religious people as cups that are beautiful on the outside, but filthy on the inside. He took them to task for whitewashing the tombs of their personal sin with a thin varnish of good deeds. His point was clear: the Lord wants us to be clean both inside and out! This should be a wake-up call for those of us who have been so busy doing good deeds that we have neglected the requirement to live good, pure lives.

    “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16.7b NIV)

    Purity Matters to God

    In the Old Testament we read stories about two very important places of worship: the tabernacle and the temple.  The tabernacle was essentially a big tent that served as a mobile worship center, built by Moses when the children of Israel were wandering in the desert. Later, after they reached the promised land, the stone temple replaced the cloth tabernacle. The temple was a more permanent worship center built by Solomon after a capitol had been established in the city of Jerusalem.

    While building the tabernacle and the temple, God makes it very clear to Moses and Solomon that every item used in the building must be pure -- everything! From the gold that covered the ark of the covenant to the gold threads woven into the tapestries, every element was to be completely pure. The offerings that were made on the altar were required to be pure -- from oil and wine to wheat and lambs. Even the priests who presented the offerings were required to be pure! When you read the stories about the tabernacle and the temple, you get a very clear picture that God takes purity very seriously.

    Today, there is no more tabernacle or temple -- they have been done away with forever. Now, under Jesus, the temple of God has been firmly established in our hearts. Your heart is the new Jerusalem, God’s capitol city where allows his name to rest.

    When I look around this room, I see living, breathing tabernacles, the sacred temple of God in each beating heart. Now then, if God was so concerned about purity in the tabernacle made of cloth -- if God was so serious about purity in the temple made of mere stone and wood -- how much more does He require the new tabernacle and the new temple -- your heart -- to maintain the highest standards of purity?

    Is there any room in God’s temple for lust and pronography? Is there any room in God’s sacred home for gossip and backbiting? Is there any place in the holy of holies for greed? Or bitterness? Or envy? Or rage? Certainly not.

    If you were to receive a guest in your home today -- think of someone very important to you -- would you want to clean your house before they arrived? Would you leave dirty linens on their bed? Would you ignore the pile of festering dishes stacked in the sink and on the counter? Would you leave scum in the bathtub and trash on the floor? Of course not! But that is what many of us do with God. We invite him in as an honored guest, but we refuse to honor him by keeping a clean house.

    Have you kept your heart -- Christ’s new home -- pure? Or have you corrupted your bed with lust? Are gossip and lies piled like dirty dishes in the sink? Has disobedience coated your bathtub with a layer of scum? Is the floor swept clean, or is a trail of anger, bitterness and jealousy littering every nook and cranny? It doesn’t matter what your house looks like on the outside if you are rotting with sin on the inside. Is your heart, the new tabernacle of God, pure or filled with impurities? God takes purity seriously.

    Our Deepest Motives  

    We must work to keep ourselves pure. This means setting a high standard for ourselves personally. Goodness that is superficial will not fool God. Virtue must be more than skin deep. True goodness can only spring forth from a pure heart.

    Jesus focused on this issue at great length in His sermon on the mount. He talked about making sure that our deepest motives were right as we attempt to do good things for others. He made it clear that he didn’t come to do away with the law (superficial evidence of a godly life). He came to fulfill it! He came to make not only our behavior good, but our hearts as well.    

    Remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” (Matthew 5.8)

    Two Dimensions of Purity

    To become pure and pleasing to God, we need to understand two dimensions of purity: Positional and Practical.

    Positional Purity - The Foundation

    If purity is what God is after, we have a problem. The truth is that none of us is pure. The scriptures say that there is no one righteous, no one who understands, no one who truly does what is good, no not one. (See Romans 3.23)  In other words, we begin from a position of impurity. All of us have dirty cups. So dirty, in fact, that your cup cannot be cleaned by human power. Our stains are so deep, that some would rather throw us away.

    Thank God we have a hero, the original Mr. Clean -- Jesus -- who has the power to erase all of our stains, buff out every imperfection and every flaw, wipe clean all of our filth and make us whiter than snow.  We are declared pure when our journey leads us to the cross and we accept the repositioning of our lives. We go from sinners lost in sin to sinners lost in grace. This brings us from a position of impurity to the position of purity in God’s eyes. We do not earn this cleansing, we could not possibly get ourselves that clean. The stain has set. This level of purity is something only God can work, and His cleansing power is available to all men and women. We receive a fresh start when we accept for ourselves the work done at Calvary by Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, if you have confessed with your mouth and believe with your heart -- inside and out, you have been declared pure by the Lord. Let no one declare you unclean! You have been made positionally pure, and even the toughest stains have been removed.

    Practical Purity - The Building

    But what happens after the foundation of positional purity has been laid? After the foundation is laid, we build on it, of course! Hand in hand with God, by the power of His Holy Spirit, we construct a new life day by day. We are always under construction, always choosing with each step we take to build a life worthy standing on the wonderful foundation Jesus Christ has laid at the cost of His own life. This is practical purity.  After the cross, we continue the journey by developing the fruit of the spirit, and cultivating character day by day, choice by choice.

    What happens to a dish once it is cleaned? Does it stay clean forever? No. Unless you hide it under a bushel, every dish will get dirty again. Daily use gets us dirty. And so it is with sin. We all fall down from time to time. And this is why we rely on grace day by day to carry us forward. God’s hands will always pick you up, clean you off, and provide you with new opportunities day by day to walk in practical purity.

    By walking in practical purity, we build a legacy of love and hope for those around us, and our lives direct all eyes heavenward.  

    “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.
    According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder

    “I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

    “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

    “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

    “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him.

    “For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

    (1 Corinthians 3.9-17)

    We are His temple. The foundation of Positional Purity has been laid by Hisd blood, and it will never be shaken. Our job is to continue in the work of Practical Purity by maintaining His standards in our lives day by day. And when we fall, praise God, he lifts us up.

    Commitment Time

    Maybe you have a stain you need to confess. Maybe you are caught up in DOING good, but have neglected the ever-important call to BE good, to live with a pure heart before Him. Whatever your need may be, I know He will meet you today when you pray. Ask the Lord to make you pure, inside and out. He will, if you let Him.

     
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