The fruit of the Spirit is … goodness
The Galatians had allowed legalism to seep into their congregation – an outward display of rightness that is actually void of inward goodness. Paul warned them not to continue with showy religiousness because it was ineffective in really changing the heart, for they were actually devouring and destroying one another (Gal 5:15).
We have a great need in today’s Christian scene for genuine goodness to exist in the hearts and come through the words and deeds of God’s people. Peace cannot endure without patience. Patience cannot exist without kindness. And we will not be kind unless we are good. This is the work of the Spirit in our hearts, to bear the inward fruit of goodness. Professor Albert Barnes understood this trait as the predisposition to obey the just and righteous commands of God.[i]
Christ said that there is none good but God (Matt. 19:17). Paul wrote that nothing good lies within our old sinful nature (Rom. 7:18). So the only hope we have of becoming truly good is by a miraculous work of the Spirit of God, and that is exactly what this verse tells us is happening in the hearts of believers. We do a disservice to the Word of God if we only emphasize the effects of the Fall and do not emphasize the teachings of the Bible on the change God is making in our hearts. In Romans 15:14 Paul wrote, “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.”
There is a connection between goodness and knowledge. Calvin wrote:
Two qualifications are especially necessary for him who gives admonitions: the first is kindness, which disposes his mind to aid his brethren by his advice, and also tempers his countenance and his words with courtesy, — and the second is skill in advice or prudence, which secures authority to him, inasmuch as he is able to benefit the hearers whom he addresses. There is indeed nothing more opposed to brotherly admonitions than malignity and arrogance, which make us disdainfully to despise the erring, and to treat them with ridicule, rather than to set them right. … But however you may excel in the feeling of kindness, as well as in courtesy, you are not yet fit to advise, except you possess wisdom and experience. Hence he ascribes both these qualifications to the Romans, bearing them a testimony, — that they were themselves sufficiently competent, without the help of another, to administer mutual exhortations: for he admits, that they abounded both in kindness and wisdom. It hence follows, that they were able to exhort.[ii]
Someone must know something in order to teach, but kindness and goodness are as much needed for effective teaching as knowledge. Goodness is not merely the absence of badness, but it is the positive character of God that creates and redeems and aspires and hopes. What is being described in this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is the work of God to ignite our imagination toward hope, righteousness and holiness.
Without the imagination ignited, with goodness merely seen as an absence of badness, our understanding of the entire progress of God bogs down at the point of our will. We will begrudgingly avoid harming others, but lack any imagination on how we may do good to others. We will smugly think that we have done all that is necessary by not doing intentional harm, without considering the positive power of God in our lives to redirect us to serve Him according to His character.
We mistake goodness for boredom and evil for excitement, but the reverse of this is the actual case. Sin is boring and to live in the goodness of God is constantly new and exciting. The Spirit makes us good in our hearts, which means that we are excited about the potential of life with God, and from that excitement and hope we treat others with kindness, and patience, and preserve peace, promote joy, and experience love.
Lord, You are greater and better than we can imagine. Thank You for taking us who are fallen and sinful and redeeming us, recreating in us Your character. Ignite our imagination with Your eternal goodness and let us encourage and teach others. Amen.