Friday, December 4, 2015

Pursuing what is Good

I met with a friend recently, and like a growing number of people I’ve discovered he no longer believed in the God of the Bible. My friend is still a “good person” by the world’s standards, and relative the majority of people I’ve known, I’m privileged that we’re friends. I’m glad that he was honest with me, but I’m saddened. I am committed to being a friend still, but I recognize that we now come from two different world-views. This difference is more than simply having different opinions; we have conflicting beliefs about what is true and good. And I’m saddened that we live in a post-Christian society.

Our society has a confused sense of what’s “good”. Without anything higher than ourselves, how can we call anything “good”? Is it by general consensus or perhaps by what has been traditionally accepted as “good”? If so, then there is nothing truly good, intrinsically good. Rather, the ideal of “goodness” morphs over time. So who is to say that what we call “evil” today won’t be called “good” in the future, and by giving it a new label flip the moral polarity?

I don’t hold to a relativist view of good and evil. I believe that “good” is not just a qualitative concept and that “goodness” is an objective moral reality. I believe that pursuing “good” means “doing good” and not just “feeling good”. Our actions reflect what we really believe, and consequently our belief is reinforced by an experience. The first chapter of James encourages us to be doers of the word and not just listeners, and it’s been my experience that faith is only real when we act upon a belief that can’t be proven until we’ve taken the action for it to become visible.

Doing good is more than acting on our feelings. Feelings aren’t inherently good or evil, but they can be misleading. I view them similar to indicators on a dashboard saying everything is okay or something is wrong. When I see a light flash on my car’s dashboard, I need to take notice and determine what the appropriate action is. Emotions and reason were always meant to be partners in the decision-making process. The pain I feel after starting a new exercise routine is a both a reminder to keep exercising and to be smart in how hard I push myself. We need to stay sensitive to feelings but not make decisions apart from reason. A decision to continue exercising with prudence can’t be reached on feelings alone, and a person who acts on feelings alone is likely to make bad decisions: e.g. – stop the painful experience and grab some chips to eat while watching TV.

“Feeling good” is another name for “pleasure” and seeking to feel good is pleasure-seeking, a.k.a. – hedonism. Seeking to feel good is doing what is right from our perspective (a good feeling, pleasing ourselves, and feeding our egos). When the Bible talks about people doing what is right in their own eyes, it uses this phrase to describe wickedness. It’s the same foundational sin from Genesis when the knowledge of good and evil was ingested in the pursuit of self-deification. In essence, it is simply rebellion against God and His ways, deciding what is “good” rather than following what God has declared to be good. The God of the Bible is Fully Good, and all His ways reflect goodness. So lawlessness is rebelling against God’s Law, which is good and which reflects His Nature. Obedience is pursuing a God’s Law even when it doesn’t feel good or when it doesn’t reflect what we understand.

If you’re still reading, you should be aware that some people would call my line of thinking as “legalistic” or out-dated. There is a voice in Christian culture that decries obedience and holiness as concepts for small, legalistic minds that don’t understand the message of Grace. This voice espouses the same theology that Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace”. This rebellious philosophy masks itself as “freedom”, shouting down the real truth about God’s grace: Mercy and Grace are two sides of the same coin (http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/05/two-sides-of-coin.html): Mercy is not getting what we deserve and Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. God’s Mercy withholds what we deserve, but we are nonetheless still deserving of punishment. God’s Grace bestows what we are unworthy to receive. But while He looks past our transgressions to see our worth, our actions have still made us unworthy of His love and goodness. The Law is still true and it still reflects God’s Goodness even when God’s love is made manifest in Mercy and Grace.

As Jesus pointed out, He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) The Law requires Justice and Justice requires payment. So in love, showing mercy and grace, Jesus paid our debt to Justice for a Law that continues to be true and good. The greater our debt to Justice, the more God’s Mercy and Grace are revealed. But as Paul asked: “Should I continue to sin so that Grace may abound? Of course not!!” (Romans 6:1-2)

It says in the last days that Lawlessness will increase and that the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).

If you are still reading and if your heart feels the truth in these words I’ve written, then you will stand firm. God is calling His people to repent, to stop leading double lives that present different faces in different settings. He is calling us to live in obedience to His Lordship. He is calling us to receive His grace, extend his grace to others and to live in obedience through the Fruit of the Spirit that only grows on us when spend time in His presence on an on-going basis. You aren’t expected to live perfectly, but you are called to be perfect in His Grace, responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 24:16 says that a righteous man stumbles seven times, but he gets up again. So get up again, and again, and again, daily picking up the cross and following the lead of Jesus. Seek to obey His leading on a moment-by-moment basis, because it’s only in His Presence as He shows us what is truly Good that we can actually do good. (John 15:5) Be intentional in how you are going to follow Jesus, because the time is short.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25
Copyright © 2015 – Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)