Notice that goodness is right in the center of the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit produces the fruit, not Christians...
My guide dog, Iva, moved with haste as she led me to the curb when a car turned onto the street we were walking on. Her quick response kept us clear of the fast-moving car. “Good girl, Iva!”
I reached into my treat pouch and pulled out a small reward for her.
Praise excites Iva.
We all love hearing that we did a good job, but how do we define a “good” Christian? Should we consider ourselves “good” Christians, and do we dare determine that someone else is a “good” Christian?
Who’s a Christian?
Saving faith comes only through Jesus Christ. God sent His Son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin. Jesus is fully God and fully Man. He alone paid the price for our sins when He died as our substitute on the cross. On the third day, He arose, and He ascended to the right hand of God several weeks later.
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)
These verses explain that we are incapable of saving ourselves. Works will not save us, but after salvation, good works demonstrate our salvation because we can only do them through the power of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell within us at salvation.
Many nonbelievers do good works. They build hospitals, give large donations to fund cancer research, grant wishes to dying children, etc.
A Christian has seen their sin, regrets it, and now lives a holy life by trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Do Good Works Define a “Good” Christian?
When we start measuring good works as proof of salvation, we stumble into the problem of legalism. We check all the boxes: Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t covet. Attend church, pray daily, and fast weekly.
Then we become like the Pharisees, making up our own rules: Men’s hair cannot touch their shirt collar. You can’t sing in the choir if your neckline is more than an inch below your collar bone.
I asked my Facebook followers to define a “good” Christian, and I received some great feedback. Some answers included good works; most answers looked at the lifestyle of a Christian.
The Fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit demonstrates a Christian lifestyle. Paul supports this answer because he said:
"So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16 NIV)
We can examine our lives and see what shows up more; Spirit or flesh?
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:22-24 NIV)
Notice that goodness is right in the center of the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit produces the fruit, not Christians, but Paul told us how to handle the flesh that wars against the Spirit.
Crucify the flesh. As long as we live in the flesh, we will war with the flesh. When we daily put to death the desires of the flesh, we will be Spirit-led and not flesh-driven.
Flesh vs. Spirit
I love a good course about the Bible, writing, or speaking. Recently, I wanted to register for a marketing course. I took my plans to Jesus for His approval. Jesus didn’t give me His blessing. When the registration deadline came, I begged Him to give His approval. When the Lord’s answer didn’t change, my flesh wanted to register anyway. What would be the harm? The struggle was so real.
Twenty years ago, my flesh wanted to partake in the sin of gossiping. Ten years ago, my flesh wanted to watch TV shows the Spirit questioned. Now my flesh wanted to do something harmless, but when Jesus says, “no!” wouldn’t it be sinful to disobey?
The struggle never disappears. It gets stronger, but notice the things my flesh desires have changed as I matured. Have you seen this in your life?
Paul experienced the same thing in Romans 7. Many suggest that Paul wrote this as an unbeliever, but the old man Saul (Paul’s name when he was an unsaved Pharisee living under legalism) would have never admitted his struggle. Paul wrote as a Christian with a real struggle:
"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." (Romans 7:15 NIV)
Can you relate? Paul said:
“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Romans 7: 18a NIV)
Does Paul mean that none of us can be a “good” Christian? No, because Paul clarified that “good” doesn’t dwell in our sinful nature, the flesh. The Spirit does dwell in us, and the Spirit is good.
None are good.
In my Facebook survey, many people answered that no one is good, except God. That comes from two verses. Paul wrote in Romans 3:12b NIV:
"...there is no one who does good, not even one."
What’s wrong with that verse? It doesn’t say that no one is good, but no one does good. Here, Paul is laying a foundation for salvation. We have to understand we need a Savior. We cannot save ourselves, and we aren’t good enough to get into heaven on our own merits. This is known as human depravity, and we all must understand that apart from God, we are totally depraved.
The other verse used comes from the lips of Jesus Christ:
“'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered. 'No one is good—except God alone.'” (Mark 10:18 NIV)
We must walk in humility, knowing that apart from God, nothing good is within us, but problems arise from this viewpoint. Sometimes, people use these verses to support their sin. Another problem arises when we feel we have no room for improvement, and this can lead to a low self-stein. This can cause people to stop trying. The Bible does classify Christians in several categories, and we will look at each of them now.
Carnal or Spiritual?
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he compared carnal Christians to spiritual Christians. He described carnal Christians as worldly, mere infants in Christ (1 Cor.3:1), not ready for solid food (1 Cor. 3:2), jealous, and quarreling (1 Cor. 3:3). They boast about their human leaders (1 Cor. 3:4).
A carnal Christian is saved but not mature. They lack the sanctification that defines mature, spiritual Christians.
Milk or Solid Food?
The author of Hebrews stopped his teaching halfway through chapter five because the Jewish Christians lacked understanding (Heb. 5:11). He used the same language as Paul in 1 Corinthians about milk and solid food (Heb. 5:12). Many people believe Paul is the author of Hebrews, but we cannot be dogmatic about that.
This opens the door to our ability to discern whether another Christian is “good.” The mature Christian has that level of discernment. Jesus addressed this in Matthew chapter seven:
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6 NIV)
As mature, sanctified Christians, we are able to discern who the hogs and dogs are.
Children, Young Men, and Fathers
The Apostle John placed Christians into three categories: children, young men, and fathers. It isn’t measured according to years, but it’s based on maturity.
"I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one."
(1 John 2:12-14 NIV)
Children are newborn Christians. Young men have matured to some degree, but fathers have discipled some spiritual children.
Are There Good Christians?
The most important thing is that you are a Christian, and you desire to grow spiritually. We mature through the Word and prayer. We grow in obedience to God. We walk in the Spirit and put the desires of the flesh to death. We draw near to God, so we can see the fruit of the Spirit manifested in our lives.
We work out our salvation, as Paul says:
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12 NIV)
Do you doubt your salvation? Let’s get right with God. If you sincerely believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, tell Him you want to accept His free gift of salvation. Tell Him you are ready to live for Him now. Pray something like this:
"Lord Jesus, I know You died on the cross to save me from my sin, a debt I cannot pay. Help me turn from my sin and live for You. In Jesus’s name. Amen."
If you prayed that in sincerity, welcome to the family of God!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ChristianChan
Christian speaker and author Carolyn Dale Newell uplifts the hearts of readers with encouraging devotions on her website, A Mountain of Faith. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, with her husband, Tim, and her guide dog and ministry partner, Iva. You can connect with Carolyn in her women’s ministry group on Facebook.