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The Goodness of God

October 23, 2022 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Miscellaneous Sermons

Topic: Topical

 

Introduction

This week, Heidi and I had the privilege of attending a small pastor and pastor’s wives retreat at Ironwood. We had a great time, but it also meant that I was only in the office two days this week, and I didn’t have much sermon prep time. Therefore, I’d like to preach a modified form of the sermon I got to preach to the other pastors and their wives on Wednesday.

My assignment was to “preach on a truth about God that keeps YOU (Me) personally motivated and/or encouraged in the pastoral ministry.” It’s a great question for a pastor. What truth about God keeps me encouraged, when ministry is disappointing and painful as it often is. But as I thought about the question more, I realized that the inverse is also important. What truth about God keeps me anchored when God blesses, and life is easy. Afterall, blessings often threaten our faith more than trials do. So, it was a good question for a pastor to consider.

It’s also a great question for any Christian. What truth about God keeps you personally motivated and/or encouraged in your life? We could have a great testimony service just answering this question.

For me, I immediately knew that above all else, the answer is the goodness of God. So, last week, I spent some extra time studying and meditating on God’s goodness. It’s a glorious attribute that stretches the mind and warms the heart. I had so much fun doing this study, I felt like I was on a glorious mountaintop every part of the study, and I pray that you are half as blessed today as I share what I learned.

This will be a different sermon from normal. I’m going to read lots of verses and several long quotes. A couple are challenging to follow. But if you track with me, the reward will be worth the effort because there is nothing better than to know the glory of God and to be near to him. I’ll also make several important applications along the way.

That said, let’s start with a couple definitions. “We speak of something as good, when it answers in all parts to the ideal. Hence in our ascription of goodnesss to God the fundamental idea is that He is in every way all that He as God should be and therefore answers perfectly to the ideal expressed in the word ‘God.’ He is good in the metaphysical sense of the word, absolute perfection and perfect bliss in Himself. It is in this sense that Jesus said to the young ruler: ‘None is good save one, even God,’ Mark 10:18. But since God is good in Himself, He is also good for His creatures…He is the fountain of all good” (Berkhof, 2:70).

“Goodness, in God as in man, means something admirable, attractive, and praiseworthy. When the biblical writers call God ‘good,’ they are thinking in general of all those moral qualities which prompt his people to call him ‘perfect,’ and in particular of the generosity which moves them to call him ‘merciful’ and ‘gracious,’ and to speak of His ‘love’” (Packer, p. 145).

Both definitions reflect the fact that theologians typically view goodness as God’s overarching communicable/moral attribute. It consists of his absolute moral perfection and his benevolence/generosity toward others. All the other moral attributes flow from it. Because God is good, he is also just, righteous, holy, compassionate, and merciful.

To put it simply, Psalm 119:68 states, “You are good and do good.”

First, let’s think more deeply about the fact that God is good in the sense that he is absolute perfection.

II.  God is Good (Absolute Perfection).

The Bible speaks many times of God’s absolute perfection.

“The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deut 32:4).

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lordis tried;He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him: (Ps 18:30).

“God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).

These are incredible verses. There is not the slightest taint of sin in God. God’s every purpose is pure and righteous and holy.

But this raises an important question. It’s one of the biggest objections people have to Christianity. Specifically, if God is absolute perfection, then why is there so much suffering and evil in the world? Is God really good? Or is God making up goodness as he goes so that what is good today could be different tomorrow?

Frame summarizes it, “If we say both ‘God is good’ and ‘Good is whatever God is,’ then God’s ‘goodness’ could be anything at all. When we make God our standard of goodness, he could hate the righteous, reward wickedness, and betray his friends, but those actions would be good, simply because God did them” (p. 405).

This seems like philosophical jargon until life turns dark. We’ve all endured trials or watched some horrifying event take place and wondered how a truly good God could let that happen. Or we begin to think that God’s goodness is arbitrary. There’s no objective standard; he just does whatever sounds good in the moment.

We can’t fully unpack the problem of evil today. It’s one of the most complex theological issues. But Frame puts us on the right track when he says, “When someone says that for God to be his own standard allows him to be an arbitrary despot, declaring what is good today to be evil tomorrow, the critic is not dealing with the reality of God’s revelation. The God who reveals himself in all creation is simply not that kind of person. We do not know him as an arbitrary despot. We have heard of arbitrary despots, but our God is not like them” (p. 409).

To that, I say, “amen.” God’s goodness is not arbitrary. It is firm and truly good. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the cross. God definitively demonstrated his love and perfect goodness in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).

This doesn’t mean that we always clearly see the goodness in all of God’s purposes. But that’s not because his purposes are evil; it’s because our perspective is limited.

My favorite illustration of this is Revelation. Someday, God will pour out his wrath against man’s sinfulness with unimaginable furor. It will exactly be the sort of horror that causes many people to deny any possibility of a good God. But notice the response of those who are in heaven and have a true appreciation of God’s glory and purpose. We will respond to his wrath by singing, “Great and marvelous are Your works,O Lord God, the Almighty;Righteous and true are Your ways,King of the nations!Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You,For Yourrighteous acts have been revealed” (Rev 15:3–4).

The reason God’s ways don’t always appear to be good is not because they are evil. It’s because our perspective is small. The problem is our limited understanding, not something in God. So, when you don’t understand God’s ways, resist the urge to accuse God of evil. Instead, bring your complaint to God, anchor your mind in his goodness and the demonstration of that goodness in the cross, and be humble enough to admit that God knows better than you what is truly good.

All that said, it’s simply incredible to imagine God’s absolute perfection because I am a sinner. My heart is deceitful; I can’t escape the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” I never love perfectly, and all that I do is polluted with false desires. I am not good. Sometimes, I even take pleasure in making my kids squirm.

I also live among sinners who not good either. We assume there’s something evil behind the public persona of politicians, celebrities, and even famous pastors. We have a hard time imagining sincere goodness, because it's not normal, and in the true sense it is nonexistent among sinners.

But God is pure goodness. There is no hint of evil in any of his desires, thoughts, or actions. He has no hidden, evil agenda. He’s not clouded with bitterness or self-deception. It’s truly incredible to ponder God’s absolute moral perfection. It’s even more incredible to think that every though, intent, and action of God toward me flows from perfect holiness, righteousness, and justice. It is all truly good. But the primary focus of God’s goodness in Scripture is that…

III.  God does what is good.

I love the story of Exodus 33–34. Israel committed a wretched crime by worshipping the golden calf. God should have abandoned them, but Moses pleads for mercy and then asks God to reveal his glory to him. God answers his prayer, and as part of God’s revelation, he describes himself. It’s incredible to hear God describe himself, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Ex 34:6–7).

God gets to wrath, but first and foremost, he wants to be known as “compassionate.”

And theologians agree that this benevolent kindness is the primary emphasis when the Bible describes God as good. “When we look at the biblical concept of divine goodness, one major idea stands out. It is that God is concerned about the well-being of his creatures and does things to promote it. Of course, God is interested in doing what is morally good and right, but biblical writers capture that idea by referring to his righteousness and holiness. Moreover, because he does what is righteous and holy in his dealings with all, the result is the promotion of their well-being or their spiritual benefit (i.e., truly good)” (Feinberg, p. 366).

Packer adds that God’s goodness is “the quality of generosity. Generosity means a disposition to give to others in a way which has no mercenary motive and is not limited by what the recipients deserve, but consistently goes beyond it. Generosity expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy. Generosity is, so to speak, the focal point of God’s moral perfection; it is the quality which determines how all God’s other excellences are to be displayed. God is ‘abundant in goodness…spontaneously good, overflowing with generosity” (Packer, pp. 146–47).

That sounds almost too good to be true. “God desires my happiness.” Is that true? Do I really believe it. Or how about the idea that generosity is “the focal point of God’s moral perfections.” Yes, God is more than generosity. He fundamentally pursues his own glory. God is holy, righteous, and true. But God says that generosity is fundamental.

Therefore, God’s goodness drives several other wonderful attributes. “God’s mercy is his goodness toward those in distress, his grace is his goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, and his patience is his goodness toward those who continue to sin over a period of time” (Grudem, p. 198).

So, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). Everything good you enjoy is a product of God’s goodness. Every friendship, every good meal, and every other good thing is a gift of God. And praise the Lord that God’s goodness never changes. Therefore, he only gives good gifts.

God is so good that his generosity extends to all creation. “You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; the stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth. You water its furrows abundantly, You settle its ridges, You soften it with showers, You bless its growth. You have crowned the year with Your bounty, and Your paths drip with fatness. The pastures of the wilderness drip, and the hills gird themselves with rejoicing. The meadows are clothed with flocks and the valleys are covered with grain; they shout for joy, yes, they sing” (Ps 65:9–13).

That’s a powerful statement but imagine the impact in an agrarian society without Costco. Hardly anything would appear more beautiful than this kind of abundance. So, when you’re tempted to doubt it, just lift your eyes and look at all the beauty around us and all the good things we enjoy. God didn’t just make the world functional. The sun doesn’t just rise and set; it’s often full of beauty. Every sunrise and sunset shouts the generosity of God.

And praise the Lord that God’s goodness extends to all people, even his enemies. Acts 17:25 states, “He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” Psalm 145:14–16 add, “The Lordsustains all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time.You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

But God is especially good to those who fear him. Psalm 145 then adds in vv. 17–20a, “The Lordis righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;He will also hear their cry and will save them. The Lord keeps all who love Him.” If you are in Christ, God’s goodness is uniquely directed at you.

So, do you really believe that God is good and only does what is good? “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lordgives grace and glory;No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps 84:11).

If you have any continued doubts, the gospel should settle them all.

1 John 4:10 states, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Then God generously applied this salvation to you when rebelled against him. “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared,He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:3–6).

And gospel grace continues to flow as we struggle for godliness. I love the rhetorical question of Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things (meaning every grace for our sanctification and perseverance)?”

IV.  My Response to God’s Goodness

God is good and he does what is good. He is generous and kind. So, how should you respond to all this? I’d like to conclude with 4 applications.

Take refuge in God’s goodness (Ps 34:1–10; 73:27).

“O taste and see that the Lordis good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!O fear the Lord, you His saints; for to those who fear Him there is no want.The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;but they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing” (Ps 34:8–10).

So often when trouble comes, we look everywhere for answers except to the Lord. Remember David’s invitation, “O taste and see that the Lordis good.” Run to him. Walk in holiness so that you can be near to him. Meditate on his glories and enjoy his presence. Taste his goodness constantly.

“Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord Godmy refuge, that I may tell of all Your works” (Ps 73:25–28). Make that the cry of your heart every day, and live it constantly.

Pray about your needs.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt 7:7–11).

The principle here is so simple. God loves to give good gifts. Yet I so often fail to ask. I must remember that he is a good Father who delights in giving good things. So, ask him for what is good. He may not give you what you think is good because often he knows of something better. But ask expectantly for what you believe is good.

Embrace whatever God deems good.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:28–29).

The big issue to remember is that God’s sense of good is always better than ours. In particular, his highest good is that you would be conformed to Christ and enjoy sweet fellowship with God. Sometimes we’d rather be comfortable than holy. But nothing brings greater rewards than holiness and the sweet fellowship with God that it brings. Anchor your soul in the goodness of God when life is the hardest.

Imitate God’s goodness (Gal 6:10; 3 John 11).

“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11).

Pursue perfection and be generous so that you can stay near to God and glorify him to the world.

V.  Conclusion

 

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