I used to have such a wrong idea about the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d read the verses in Galatians like a laundry list of so many things I couldn’t do enough, be enough. I would either flip to another book of the Bible, or vow to work on being more loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, etc. But the next day, I wouldn’t even be able to list all nine.
This post is the sixth in a series on walking with God instead of pursuing idolatry. You’ll find the previous one here.
“Be good.” It’s what parents tell their children all the time. I usually said it when leaving mine in the care of someone else.
What we mean when we say it is, “don’t misbehave.” It’s a measure of their outward actions.
But a peek at what “goodness” in the Greek (agathōsúnē) tells us a deeper meaning. Zohdiates Word Study Dictionary defines it as “character energized, expressing itself in benevolence or active good.” More than just doing nice things for people, or doing the right thing, it’s characterized by a zeal for doing good.
Its opposite, wickedness, seems easy for most of us to avoid. We’re good people, right? We don’t go around killing people or abandoning kittens.
But have you ever done the right thing with the wrong attitude? I have, many times. Most people wouldn’t notice that I did it begrudgingly, but on the inside, my attitude resembled the people Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians:
He was referring to the Israelites under Moses’ leadership. They’d just escaped slavery in Egypt—on their way to the Promised Land!
A group of men under a Levite named Korah had revolted against Moses’ leadership. As a consequence, God caused the ground to open up and swallow 250 men.
The rest of the assembly began to grumble. Outwardly, they were following God, who appeared as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But they despised the one God called to lead them. “You’re responsible for killing the Lord’s people!” they said to Moses.
When they assembled at the tent of meeting, God struck them with a plague. 14,700 people died. The group not part of the wicked rebellion—the “good” people—faced the same wrath as those who’d directly and outwardly opposed Moses.
Clearly, God reckons our heart attitude on the same scale as our outward actions. Outwardly, we’ve been trained to “be good” from our first memories. But is an outward show good enough?
We can’t “be good” in our hearts all the time in our own power. Especially not zealously. For that kind of supernatural goodness, we have to be connected with the Holy Spirit.
Just like the Israelites, it’s easy to lose touch with the Holy Spirit and live in the temporal. As we walk in the Spirit, goodness looks like keeping in step with God’s purposes, rather than our own. Looking at life through that lens, we begin to trust that He is just. He’d never require us to do anything that’s bad for us.
When we’re confident that God’s purposes for us are best, we don’t have to hoard our good acts like they’re the last few M&Ms in the bag. As we walk with Him, the goodness naturally exudes because we can get a refill anytime we need to.
Want to read the rest of the posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series?