By Keith Ward
We presume at the outset that most of us know what to do to be good. However, through carelessness, trials, and weaknesses, we often fail to do as well as we know, and are tempted to think that the sin is small and we will repent later. In our rush to enjoy sin’s pleasures, Satan causes us to forget the consequences. To stiffen our resistance to the lure of sin, God gave the following reasons for being good.
When we cast about for a way to explain this quality to her class of 5-7 year olds, Dene and I decided upon and our children can still repeat, “Virtue is when you want to be good.” Many are good from fear of being caught and punished, but virtue is being good for the love of goodness. Among all men, only Jesus was fully virtuous. Yet, we are commanded to “add to our faith virtue” (2 Pet. 1:5). Each man has different strengths: One loves good in that drunkenness never tempts him, another so that “other women” are hardly comprehensible, still another so that he would never steal. Each man also has weaknesses; areas where the struggle with temptation is a daily battle we are ever on the verge of losing. Thus, we need to add to our virtue, our love of being good for its own sake.
Meditation on Jesus’ life and sacrifice increases our virtue. How can one who is thinking of Jesus’ agonizing death on our behalf desire to do evil? How can one who is thinking of Jesus’ love want to do anything but good? We add to our virtue by “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). The problem remains that Satan injects many distractions and our thoughts become involved with television, finances, sports, etc., instead of with Christ. As long as we are in this life, virtue will need adding to; we will not reach such a degree of wanting to be good that we will turn from every sin (1 Cor. 10: 12). But, each day should see progress made toward that goal.
Virtue is the highest and noblest motive for obedience to God. God knew that we would begin our service to Him with a small amount of virtue, that we would need time spent in fellowship with Him to grow, and that, at times, Satan’s enticements would erode our virtue. Thus, God gave other reasons for being good.
Moses weighed the “recompense of reward” given by God in the balances against “the pleasures of sin for a season” and chose “ill treatment with the people of God” (Heb. 11:25-26). If each of us would as soberly consider the rewards of the two ways of life, we would surely, as Moses, choose to be good. However, for the most part, men never stop to think beyond, “Sin is pleasurable; sin is now; let us enjoy it.”
God holds forth the rewards of being called His children, of having joy and peace in this life regardless of outward circumstances, and of going to heaven when we die. Though our virtue may not always be sufficient to cause us to want to be good, a reflection upon God’s great recompense of reward for being good should lead us on in paths of righteousness.
Influenced by the “customer is always right,” “Win friends and Influence People” at any cost philosophy of our day, we have become too “sweet” to frighten people into obedience. Neither Jesus nor God had any such qualms about threatening the disobedient to get them to repent, or the saved to keep them saved. “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” inspired Jonah threatened (Jon. 3:4). Jesus threatened punishment upon the disobedient so severe that it would be better to cut off a hand or foot, or tear out an eye than to go there. The worms shall destroy this earthly body. But, can you imagine existing in a place, endlessly, hopelessly aware, in a body endlessly eaten by worms, “Their worm dieth not”? “Eternal destruction from the face of the Lord” where “the fire is not quenched” is too horrible to contemplate (Mk. 9:42-48; 2 Thess. 1:7-9). When a man considers any action that might even possibly send him to such a place, he ought to recoil from it. With hell as the punishment for the least sin, who can but “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9)? God intends that we should be too terrified to sin no matter how great the enticement. He chose to reveal the facts about hell to us to motivate us to be good.
We need God too much to risk angering Him. We can plow, plant, fertilize, and weed, but God sends the sunshine, the rain, and the increase. Or, He withholds them. In all life’s endeavors, God supplies the greatest part to our success or failure. Many a parent has sighed the prayer, “Thank God it was just a virus,” when their child’s fever and illness went away. But, how often it was “just a bug” instead of a more serious disease because God heard the “effectual fervent prayers” of righteous parents, shall not be known this side of eternity. As anxious husbands or wives breathed a quick, “Thank you, God” as their overdue spouse and family drove up, how often was their safety the result of God’s providence – the car that ran the red light just before or after they got to that intersection? The sleepy truck driver that decided to pull off for a nap instead of pushing on and, perhaps, causing a wreck? The differential gears that “locked down” at 15 mph instead of 55 mph (this happened to Dene)?
I once visited the family of a man who was in the hospital with a severe heart condition. I spoke the following to his son who is not obedient to God. “I know you love your Dad a lot and that you are concerned for him. And, you should realize that because you do not live as his child, God does not hear your prayers. Don’t you wish you could add your petitions to ours at the throne of God?” In effect, I appealed, “If you will not be good for the love of good or for the hope of heaven, or for the fear of hell, won’t you be good to be able to pray for those you love?” My appeal was in vain.
Everything in life is tentative. We may lose our job; our dream home may burn down; we, or a family member, may lose our health; we are subject to dangers as common as highway accidents, or as unusual as having an arm ripped off when removing a quilt from a spinning washer. We can depend on nothing remaining the same. Only God is a rock (Isa 44:8). Our channel to “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” is too vital to endanger for any pleasure (Heb. 4:16). One seriously doubts that the sinful child of God who turns to God only in time of need, “God forgive me; now give me will be heard. Our love for our family and recognition of our dependence upon God for even the basic necessities of life should motivate us to be good, “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12).
It would be wonderful if all of us were always good from the highest motive of virtue. But, some of us, some of the time, are weak enough to need reminding of our reward for being good, or our punishment if we are bad, or our dependence upon God and consequent need of prayer to motivate us to be as good as we ought. As God revealed all of these motives, any combination of them will save us — if we are good.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 22, pp. 690, 693
November 15, 1984