Most Christians are familiar with the account of the rich, young ruler. He was thoroughly sincere in his question: “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Today, he might have been a Roman Catholic, a Mormon, one of any number of sects or denominations. Oh, but he wasn’t willing to listen or to learn from the Lord’s answer. Are you?
Evangelists have been preaching this text for two millennia, but many have missed an important point. The young man’s question revolved around what he could DO to become a heir of God’s eternal life. Sermons have been built around the fact that inheritances are not earned; they are a part of a birthright. Other lessons have touched on the man’s obedience to the law, but without genuine sacrifice. No, he had never killed anyone nor committed adultery, but he was not a true servant of God. Many liberal preachers have taught that without giving to the poor one can’t be their kind of Christian. But it’s not if he had sold his possessions and given the proceeds away he would have inherited eternal life. The Lord referred to this self-less sacrifice somewhat the way Paul spoke of the law. The man’s unwillingness proved him to be a sinner . He was more interested in himself than God or anyone else. Slinking away in sadness, only pointed out that he was not submissive to the Lordship of Christ. Thousands of evangelistic messages have come from variations of these thoughts. But something which I and thousands of others have never preached stems from Jesus’ introductory words to the man.
“Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.” In what way does Christ’s statement relate to the man’s eternally lost condition? The answer in brief is this: God is good, but man is not. And there is nothing any man can do to bridge that gap. There is nothing in man’s good works or his obedience to the law which can give him eternal life. This man may have been a perfect human candidate for salvation by good or good works, but he walked away still living with eternal death. None of us are naturally good, and none of us can do those things which are good in God’s sight. None of us are good enough to impress the God who alone is good.
Among many other attributes, goodness is an intrinsic part of the nature of the Lord. “Good and upright is the Lord” – Psalm 25:8. “Truly God is good to Israel” – Psalm 73:1. When Moses wanted to know more about Jehovah, he was told – “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” – Exodus 33:19. And then a few verses later, “And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness.” – Exodus 34:6. Why is it sure that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever”? It is because God is good. “The goodness of God endureth continually” – Psalm 51:1. This is not speaking merely of the good things the Lord does for His people; it speaks of God’s nature. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness”– Psalm 107.
Sinful man cannot hope to impress God, because the Lord’s goodness is unique – it is out of this world.
And I am not referring to God’s infinite holiness or His natural perfection. For example, even though Jehovah is merciful to the extreme, His goodness exceeds His mercy. Mercy presupposes an object to bless – a miserable object – but goodness doesn’t need a subject. And another example – creation was an act of goodness, but the Lord didn’t create out of mercy. Creation was not FOR anyone but Elohim Himself.
With goodness we are referring to the benevolence and liberality of God which He expresses with bounty. God’s goodness renders Him lovely and desirable. Why don’t sinners love and desire the Lord? Because they are NOT good – they are sinners. They so far below goodness themselves, they don’t appreciate the goodness of God. “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” And just as each of His attributes links unbreakably with every other attribute, God’s goodness permeates everything else that Jehovah is and does. Again, when the Lord revealed Himself to Moses He said, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy”
In what ways is God good? Let’s say that two people you know need your help – one is a friend; other is a grumpy old neighbor. You have the means to be blessing to one, but not to both – who do you assist? Actually, it could be either one. Your friend will always be your friend, but in helping that neighbor you could create a new friend. What enables you to make that choice? Isn’t it something inside you? You have a good heart. While you are being kind to one of them, another extremely wealthy person has the same opportunity. But in his case he does nothing at all. Why didn’t he help? Might we conclude that he is NOT a good person? And why is God good? It is something “inside Him.” He is good because it is a part of His nature. Goodness isn’t a habit which the infinite God has fallen into. He is simply good – “at heart.” His goodness is original, infinite, unlimited, eternal and abundant with Him.
But OUR goodness is mutable – it changes. Tomorrow, your friend might have the same need he had last week, and you helped him then. But now, even though you have the same opportunity and means, you choose not to be good towards him. What is opposite of good? Is it bad? Is it evil? Whatever is the opposite of good, it cannot be found in God – He is all good.
And it is the very nature of God to distribute His goodness. God is not envious of His goodness or stingy with it. He is more prone to communicate His goodness than is the sun to spread its light and heat throughout the galaxy.
And God is good by nature, not simply by His sovereign will. He doesn’t choose to be good – He IS good. I believe in the impeccability of God – it is impossible for God to lie or to sin in any way. And what is sin? By definition, sin is whatever is contrary to the nature of God. So Jehovah could not choose to be bad – He can only be good – impeccably good. Good is all that God can ever be or do. He didn’t have to create the world, but having chosen to do so, what kind of world was it – “And God saw everything that He had made and, behold it was very good.”
But despite being good by nature, God is also freely good. He is sovereign in the dispensation of His goodness. He voluntarily exercises His goodness when He chooses WHICH good, or which DEGREE of good, to distribute. And when He does, He DELIGHTS in doing so. His pleasure in being good is greater than our pleasure in receiving His goodness. And so He delights in our prayers; He is eager to bestow good things on those who ask Him.
And goodness was God’s purpose in both the original creation and in later salvation. If the Almighty God had never created the universe, who would have known that God is good? He would have. But He created a few worthless creatures, who are entirely dependent upon their Creator, so that His goodness might be known by others. You might say that acknowledging His goodness must be the great motive and end of all His works.
But what about those arguments which suggest God is NOT good?
Despite what some say, the existence of sin in the world is not proof that God is evil. Jehovah was perfectly good in granting Adam the opportunity to obey or to disobey Him. God gave Adam a freedom of choice, and only with that freedom would Adam’s obedience been true obedience. God’s goodness was no less good because man chose to abuse it. And furthermore, when God in goodness and grace saves a few of Adam’s children His goodness is magnified.
“Oh, but,” someone says, “God is not good, because He isn’t equally good to everyone.” In God’s goodness you all live in nice warm homes. But is the Lord not good to the sparrows who live outside during these cold, cold months? It is true that God does not distribute His goodness equally, but that doesn’t make God evil or bad. In fact, not all creatures have the same capacity for divine goodness. Would that sparrow really enjoy living in your house? Wouldn’t he try with all his might to be outside? In fact, he might say that it is not goodness which brought him inside. Not all creatures have the same capacity for divine goodness. And just no man can see God and live – because we are not worthy or holy enough to see God. It is doubtful that any of us are up to experiencing the fulness of God’s goodness. God has the right to dispense His goodness according to His sovereign pleasure. Just because He pardons many rebels and sinners, is He obligated to pardon them all? Is God evil or bad because He withholds some of His goodness toward those who despise Him? I say “some” of His goodness, because everyone of us, righteous and wicked, are constantly immersed in the goodness of God even if it is nothing more than the life in our bodies.
Let’s say that a man’s son walks out the front door of his house, picks up a rock, and with his father watching from the porch, throws that rock through a neighbor’s livingroom window. Would you call that father good if he praises his son for what he had done. Would he be a good man if he ignores what his son just did, pretending it never happened. Would he be good if when the neighbor comes over accusing the boy, the father lies and denies that it was his son, when he knew full well it was? Couldn’t we say that the father is perhaps more wicked than the son.
Would God be truly good, if despite His omniscience, He overlooked the sins of Adam’s rebellious children? The justice of God is a part of His goodness. Goodness without justice would be sinful indulgence, encouraging further rebellion and wickedness. So in goodness God gave us the law. It is helpful in encouraging us to be good. And contained in it is the precept of judgment and punishment when it is broken. Remember Romans 7:12 – “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and GOOD.” IS God NOT good when He judges behaviour which is contrary to His express will – His law?
Well then, what about those occasions when apparent bad things fall on God’s saints? Is God not good when Paul is left with a thorn in his side? Just ask Paul. What does he say? “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Because the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul acknowledged God’s goodness even when He left him suffering.
The gospel, the good news of Christ, is perhaps the highest expression of the goodness of God.
What did the angels declare when the gospel began to become incarnate? “The angel said unto (the shepherds), Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tiding of great joy… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Redemption originated in God’s goodness – totally undeserved by any of us.
The spiritual condition of mankind is described in Romans 1-3. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and we could properly say, “come short of the goodness of God.” “So God sent forth his sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Why was this sacrifice necessary? Because of sin. Again – among the charges the Judge lays upon the sinners of this world Romans 2 declares: “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the GOODNESS of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds For there is no respect of persons with God… For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Isn’t the goodness of God seen in His restraint – not destroying everyone who despises His goodness?
The goodness and love of God are perfectly and eternally married. I think you might lawfully substitute the word “goodness” whenever “love” is used in connection with God. “God commendeth his (goodness) toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” “But God, who is rich in mercy (and goodness) for his great love toward us, even when we were dead in sins , hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved).” “Behold, what manner of (goodness) the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” “For God (was so good to) the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That last verse – John 3:16 – includes a tiny word of comparison – “For God SO loved the world…” HOW good is God? How much does He love His creation? God the Father, sovereignly poured out more goodness upon His elect – even more than He did His own Son, for a time.
It is argued that God is not good when He permits suffering in this world. I have even heard it said that in permitting the death of Christ, God is not good – He is evil. But as I pointed out earlier – God’s goodness is manifested and dispensed sovereignly. In order to be good towards His elect – those who He has chosen to save – He had to withhold some of His goodness towards His own Son. God’s goodness was never more clearly displayed than on Jesus’ cross. There was a gift of infinite value – a million worlds could not compare with it. The Father gave up His Son to endure the frailties of human life, to be made a curse, to suffer and taste death for a degenerate rebellious world. But there has never been a more gracious or “gooder” deed. And that deed was carried out not just by the Father, but by the Son as well. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness”– Psalm 107.
Now, ask yourself – What would be the best way to praise the Lord for His goodness? If we trained our voices, becoming the very best singer possible, would that be worthy of the Lord? If we became exquisite poets with the ability to express our appreciation for God’s goodness, would that please the Lord? What if we dedicated ourselves to the benefit of humanity? Is that what the Lord wants in return?
Without trying to put words in the Lord’s mouth, I would suggest that the greatest way to praise the Lord for His goodness is to humbly and properly accept it. And since it’s highest expression was made at Calvary, then that is the place to begin. If you would like to honor the Lord for His goodness, acknowledge your need of His ultimate goodness. Repent before Him, and submit yourself to His grace; bow before the Saviour. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; trust Him as your beneficent Saviour and King.