I recently read a quote from a Prominent Christian AuthorTM, and I couldn’t help but disagree. I seem to be doing more and more of that nowadays. Here’s the quote:
God’s ultimate goal for your life on earth is not comfort, but character development.
I read this over several times, trying to figure out what the author meant. I can understand him contrasting character development with comfort, and I agree that God did not put me on this earth to be comfortable. But did he really put (and leave) me here with the “ultimate” goal of developing my character? Does it all really boil down to me being nice?
I first read this quote in a critique of this author’s book, and I thought, No, that can’t be what he really said. So I grabbed the book off the shelf and dug around until I found that line. Sure enough, that’s exactly what he is saying. When all is said and done, God is really interested in our character more than anything else.
I just cannot accept this. Jesus did not approach the disciples and say, “Follow me and I will make you people of good character.” He challenged them with an assignment. He had a job for them to do.
Jesus did not separate the sheep from goats by seeing how nice they were. No, he looked at their actions. His criterion was how well did they did what he commanded.
Yes, I know that Jesus spoke a great deal about our attitude, how hatred is as bad as murder, how lust is equal to adultery. It seems unfortunate to me, however, how these passages (the author references the sermon on the mount, 1 Cor 13, and 1 Pet. 3:8-9) get more airplay than something like “you are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn. 15:14). Jesus didn’t say, “You are my friends if your attitude is what I command you,” or even “if your character is what I command you.” To Jesus, apparently, it was less about being, and more about doing.
These passages drove the point home to me. I did a search on “doing good”:
- Acts 10:38 God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
- Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
- 1 Peter 2:15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
- 1 Peter 3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
- 1 Peter 4:19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
My hope is that by spending more time on doing good, and less on trying to be good, I’ll accomplish both.
P.S. Can you name the Prominent Christian Author who wrote that line?
7 thoughts on “God’s ultimate goal”
“Doing Good” or “Being Good”?
Dallas Willard made the comment that the main thing we and God get out of our life is the type of person we become. Are we becoming the type of person who would actually want to be in heaven? The fires there may be hotter and more uncomfortable than the other place if our character hasn’t been refined here on earth
I don’t believe a holy character equates to being “nice”. I have known plenty of nice people where their “niceness” was just a facade or mask. Character to me means being genuine – free from all hypocrisy and also having one’s members disciplined so they don’t over power one’s spirit (or will – which, after studying Dallas Willard’s teaching, I have come to believe is synonymous with one’s spirit.) Godly character will free us to do good works in abundance. Remember Jesus wasn’t always nice but he was always good.
Doing good can be faked. This is the case of Pharisees, then and now. Being good is a matter of the heart. It is a matter of not being a “white-washed sepulcher”. Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit. Trying to do good without first being good would be like trying to get an apple tree to bear peaches by tying peaches to its branches.
The Creator of Heaven and Earth is our Father, we are his children. Like all good parents, he wants his children to grow into mature Sons and Daughters who can be trusted to do the right thing. Character development is an extremely high priority to our Creator because he wants us to become the type of people he can empower to do what ever we want.
To be a person of good character we have to be transformed by Love himself. Love does this by disciplining us. If we embrace this and cooperate with it we eventually become free and truly able to walk in the good works he has prepared for us. Obedience to the will of God, i.e. “Doing Good”, will be the overflow of a godly character.
In my opinion, lack of character is one reason we haven’t seen the greater works and more demonstrations of power – who can he trust?. Who has a character developed to the point where they wouldn’t be destroyed by receiving the gift of miracles?
(Mal 3:2-3 NIV) But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,
(Heb 5:14 NASB) But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
(Heb 12:4-13 NIV) In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
(Rom 5:3-4 NIV) Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
(Mat 7:18-20 NRSV) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
(Mat 12:34-37 NASB) “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. “And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. “For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned.”
(Mat 15:16-20 NRSV) Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
(Luke 11:38-41 NRSV) The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
(Mat 23:27-28 NASB) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
I’m not a huge fan of the author quoted (I won’t yet spill the beans for others), but I do greatly appreciate Dallas Willard’s and Richard Foster’s work in this area. I think it would be better said that God’s ultimate goal in our individual lives is not character development per se, but rather Christlikeness, having Christ fully formed in us (Rom 8:29, Gal 4:19). He wants to work a transformation in us so that our lives more naturally and reflexively demonstrate the love and actions of Jesus. This is accomplished largely through spiritual disciplines, both individually and collectively.
The individual “vertical” disciplines of prayer and study and fasting and the like often seem to grab the spiritual disciplines “limelight”, but some disciplines are more outward and action-oriented in nature (like service and simplicity). The implication, then, is that God not only works from the inside out, but He also works from the outside in. In other words, obedience (i.e., actively fulfilling Christ’s assignment for us and Joining in on the work of God in the world -maybe even if our hearts are not fully “in it” or our motives are not completely pure) can often times result in inward transformation, i.e., a softer, transformed heart that will in turn produce even more good works.
You had a lot to say, jamcgre, and I don’t think I can respond to everything — but thanks for commenting.
Before I respond, though, I’d like to clarify a term I’m using.
I define “doing good” as “performing any act which benefits another”. It strikes me that my definition is broader than yours. However, I don’t want to put words into your mouth, so can you define what you mean by “doing good”, so at least we’ll be on the same page?
Absolutely no idea who the author might be. Regardless, I agree with skipper that we need some clarity about terms.
“Doing good”, “character”, “good works”, could all use some broader definition.
And on my own personal horse, based on some of the texts above I’m once again moved to ask, “who are the modern–day Pharisees?” Do we automatically assume that all Christians are eligible? Are only Christian leaders eligible? Does it only refer to Christians who act a certain way? Does it refer to Christians today at all?
I’m going to have to stick with my own definition of doing good, which is “performing any act which benefits another.” With this definition in mind, I’ll respond to jmacgre. My contention is that the logical fallout of this line of thinking is that we never start to do good, because we’re never good enough.
The first is this statement: “Doing good can be faked.” I disagree. How can I fake doing something? If I perform an act which benefits another, say, giving money to Freedom Fire, what did I fake? I didn’t pretend to give the money; I actually gave it. I agree with your statement that “being good is a matter of the heart,” but doing good is 100% action — not a heart issue. And we are instructed a number of times (I gave references above) to do good.
I also cannot agree with this statement: “Trying to do good without first being good would be like trying to get an apple tree to bear peaches by tying peaches to its branches.” I do not find any biblical injunction to refrain from good works until I have attained a state of internal goodness. To go with this line of thinking, we’ll all stay close to home, go to Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, be at church twice a week, etc, but never actually do anything that benefits someone else, because we aren’t good enough! That would be silly. But wait! That’s exactly what we are doing! The current evangelical thinking encourages me to become good (virtues), not to do good (works).
By the way, the current charismatic thinking goes the same way: we must attain to a particular state of goodness so that we will be worthy of and ready for great power from God. Only then will we not be corrupted by supernatural gifts and miracles. However, looking at the characters in the Bible who had such gifts, I don’t see any who have such a state of goodness. Here are just a few: Moses — anger control issues; Elijah — depression and fear; Peter — fear of man. God did not wait until these men had pure hearts before he poured out his power. Yes, I want to be pure. Yes, I want to be uncorrupted by power. However, God does not wait — and we do not earn this power by our goodness.
So I’m echoing what bwhite said above. Let’s have Christ be formed in us from the outside in, as well as the inside out. That way, at least, we’ll be doing something while we’re waiting to become good. I think Paul would agree. For example, he tells the Galatians to do good (Gal. 6:9-10), even though they had bad theology and needed to be warned away from the works of the flesh. And of course, the Corinthian church members were definitely virtue-challenged, with strife, jealousy, and division. If any group needed to become good, it was them. Yet Paul still encouraged them to do good by contributing to the needs of the saints in Jerusalem. Nowhere did he say, When you become good, then start to do good.
P.S. Just who is the Prominent Christian Author? None other than your friend and mine, Rick Warren. You’ll find it in The Purpose Driven Life, I think page 78.
I have to agree lagely with bwhite. Christlikeness is a better descriptor of Gods ultimate purpose in us. But that said I cant fault Mr Warrens statement. I think its fairly accurate when comparing the the value God places on our comfort vs character. But as with all good analogy it falls short.
I also think that we have good evidence that in the first century jewish mind there was a more holistic view of action and thought. Therefore the doing and the being were not so easily separated. A good example is how we define Faith. To us it can be a passive belief. But to the jew and 1st century believer it was definitely a verb an action of will.
skipper says: “The first is this statement: “Doing good can be faked.” I disagree. How can I fake doing something?” You cant fake that you have done it, but you can deceive yourself into believing it was good. The Pharisees gave alms – a good thing to do- they did it openly with much pomp in public to gain the approval of man. Is this a good thing they have done? Well their giving may well feed the poor, but from an eternal perspective we are told that their works were dead mens bones and whitewash. I say all this to point out that we may create a false dichotomy of being/doing. Can they really be separated out so neatly? Can we be good without doing good?
Fine, it’s Rick Warren. Here’s an interesting bit of recent history that touches on some of this thinking.
The woman who talked the murderer into giving himself up in Atlanta was said to have read to him from Purpose. Christians were excited about this.
Then, she was also said to have some crystal meth in the house that may or may not have been offered to the guy, the coverage gets cloudy here.
The upshot, then, was that she must have not been “good”. I certainly heard it bandied about here with the implication that the book can’t be that good, and people who say they’ve read it can’t be that good, and Christians can’t be that good because look- crystal meth!
It looks to me like the world is saying, “you can’t claim any kind of moral insight, much less authority, until we deem you perfect.” That’s a good way to shut down anything that any Christian says. And, of course, skipper will quickly see the logic flaw of the old claim, “there is no such thing as absolute good, and Christians aren’t good anyway” judging them by the standard they say doesn’t exist.