When God created everything, did He “become” Creator and thereby change? Or was God always Creator even before things began to exist? This advanced theology lecture touches on God’s unchangeableness, His eternal nature, and how He interacts with His creation.
God is the Greatest Good: Why There is Nothing Better Than God
If you could ask for one thing to make your life better, what would it be? If your answer is anything but “God,” you are missing out on the greatest possible good for yourself.
What Does “Greatest Good” Mean?
The greatest good, often referred to as “summum bonum” in Latin, refers to “the highest possible good,” “the ultimate good,” and “a good which has no rivals or superiors.” In theology and some philosophical systems, it is the source from which all inferior goods flow.
In life, we often prioritize good things by thinking of some of them in terms of being a greater good than another.
- What is a better good, enjoying a dessert one time or experiencing the joy of a good marriage for an entire lifetime?
- If you had to choose between the opportunity to mow your neighbor’s lawn or bringing about world peace, which of those two is the greater good and thus worth choosing over the other?
You get the point, not all good things are equal in value. In life, we often have to choose between good things. We use the phrase “choosing what is best” when you have to choose between two or more good things but you can’t have them both.
Why the Greatest Good is So Important
What you truly believe is the greatest good will heavily influence your thoughts, desires, and decisions.
- Thoughts – your mind will dwell on what it thinks is truly best. If you think pleasure is best, your mind will dwell on how to get more pleasure (or avoid pain).
- Desires – what your heart burns for greatly influences what you will ultimately pursue in life.
- Decisions – influenced by your desires and thoughts, your actions reveal what is most important to you. We try to possess what we want and what we think is good for us to have or experience.
What you believe is the greatest good will influence your relationships with others. If you believe happiness is the greatest good, you may seek to use people to get happiness and will tend to avoid people that bring unhappiness. You will teach others, either with your words or actions, that happiness is the most important thing in life and that people are secondary to your happiness.
If you believe money is the greatest good, people will see that in your life and it will influence them for better or worse. For instance, your kids might grow up either also believing material wealth is the greatest good or they will reject this and seek something else instead.
What you believe is the greatest good determines whether you are truly walking in God’s will or not. God wants you to ultimately pursue what is best (which is Himself). If you choose to make something else of more value to you than Him, you can have no confidence you are living according to God’s will.
What you believe is the greatest good affects how you deal with loss, hardship, and suffering. If happiness is the greatest good to you, how do you think you will respond when you are feeling unhappy? If money is the greatest good to you, how do you think you will respond if you experience financial hardship?
When you think about losing what you consider to be the greatest good, it starts to put that thing in perspective. After all, if you can lose it, or if someone can take it from you, or if it can lose its goodness over time, can it really be considered the greatest good?
Why God Himself is the Greatest Good
The point of this article is to help you see that God is the greatest good and from that, hopefully help you revolve your life after the pursuit of Him.
Again, when we are trying to figure out what is the greatest good, we are trying to find that thing that is superior to all other goods and which has no rivals. This has to be God. Why? Because if something other than God was the greatest good, wouldn’t that thing have to be “God”? If something is greater than God in its goodness, it would have to occupy the sole position of the thing most valued and the thing that should be most sought after. Since only God occupies this preeminent position, He must be the greatest good.
How the Bible Shows us God is the Greatest Good
There are many ways the Bible demonstrates that God is the greatest good but they can be reduced to two categories: who God is and what God does.
Who God Is
The Bible upholds the uniqueness of God’s goodness above all other things. Consider this brief comment by Jesus:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
– Mark 10:17-18
There is a lot going on here but essentially Jesus tells the man that there is one unique being that is good and that is God. Now Jesus was indirectly forcing the man to make a decision about who Jesus really is (do you believe that I am also God?). Jesus was also confronting the man’s own view of himself as being better than he really was and that is why Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions. The man went away sad because he valued wealth far higher than he should have.
Additionally, God’s goodness is seen in other specific character qualities. His goodness is shown in His love and faithfulness that never ends and never changes:
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
– Psalm 100:5
Compare God’s love and faithfulness to human love and faithfulness. Do you know anyone who is consistently and perfectly loving and faithful all the days of their life? Of course not, they don’t exist. Humans don’t have the ability to do what God can do because it isn’t a part of their nature.
God’s goodness never can and never will change. All other things can lose their goodness in some way. God can never lose His goodness. He can never become more or less good than He is. That is another reason why He is the ultimate good. Nothing can steal His goodness from Him. None can do harm to His goodness. None can tempt Him to give up His goodness. It is untouchable in every way and preserved forever in His incorruptible and unchangeable perfect being.
Augustine said it this way,
“The highest good, than which there is no higher, is God, and consequently He is unchangeable good, hence truly eternal and truly immortal.”
– Augustine 1
Interestingly, Augustine connected God’s unchangeable goodness to His immortality. If His goodness cannot change, and if life (the continued existence of that goodness) is a part of that goodness, God must never be able to die. God’s goodness is thus as eternal and unchangeable as He is.
Another reason God’s goodness is supreme is because He shares the benefits of it with others. Consider this,
I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord.
– Jeremiah 31:14
God desires His people to be satisfied with His goodness. He doesn’t want to merely keep it to Himself. God wants the very depths of our souls to be satisfied with His goodness. Instead of filling our souls with either things that are inherently bad, or good things that are far inferior to the goodness of God, we should fill them with the ultimate good.
Blessing comes to the person who truly experiences the goodness of God:
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
– Psalm 34:8
If you truly want to prosper in life, experience the goodness of God as much as you can. Recognize all the ways in which God is already showing His goodness to you.
The Good Things God Does
God’s goodness is also seen in the good things that He does. Everything in creation was originally made good:
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
– Genesis 1:31
The good God only made good things. Unfortunately, because men and angels do not have the same unchangeable and incorruptible goodness He has, some rebelled and lost their inherent goodness. The source of all evil is the loss of inherent goodness in God’s creation.
Still there are many good things that you can experience in life despite the fact that the world has lost some of its original goodness.
Not only does God give all good things, He Himself is the source of all good and is inherently good. He is like a fountain that provides a never-ending supply of life-giving water. Every good thing you experience – great food, loving people, beautiful flowers and sunsets, refreshing sleep – whatever it is, if it is good, it finds it’s origin in the goodness of God.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
– James 1:17
Good things owe their goodness to God. Anything good in creation is good because God made it to be so. Thus, we can say all good things owe, or depend on, God for their goodness.
But God isn’t like this. He is dependent on nothing for His goodness. He doesn’t need anyone to give goodness to Him since He has had it by nature for all time. He doesn’t become “more good” over time since He already exists as the pinnacle of all perfection. There is no other thing that has this kind of original and independent goodness in it.
God’s goodness is also the foundation of our prayer requests:
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
– Matthew 7:11
If God were not good, why pray? Why ask Him for anything? We pray because God is good.
If the loss of inherent goodness from sin is the source of all evil, wouldn’t God want us to not continue in sin? God desires that we turn from our self-destructive path of sin and live according to His purpose for us. Fortunately, He doesn’t keep the way to do this hidden but shares it in His Word:
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
– Psalm 25:8
Next time you read the Bible, think of it as an overflow of God’s goodness in the form of instructing you in what to believe and how to live. He tells you these things because He wants what is truly best for you.
Finally, the clearest and most profound evidence of God’s goodness is seen in the death of Jesus Christ for the redemption of sinners. Author J.I. Packer is right when he says this:
“The supreme expression of God’s goodness is still, however, the amazing grace and inexpressible love that shows kindness by saving sinners who deserve only condemnation: saving them, moreover, at the tremendous cost of Christ’s death on Calvary (Rom. 3:22–24; 5:5–8; 8:32–39; Eph. 2:1–10; 3:14–18; 5:25–27).”
– J.I. Packer 2
Let’s look for a minute at one of the passages Packer gives in the quote above.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
– Romans 3:23–28
Notice that twice in this passage we are told that God’s gracious forgiveness of sinners through Christ was to show His righteousness. Righteousness is a form of God’s goodness and means He is “right” in all that He does. God is both “right” in punishing Christ for our sins (sins justly deserve punishment) and at the same time, He is also “right” to forgive those who have faith in Jesus for their forgiveness. God shows His goodness at the cross where both His good justice and His good mercy come together to redeem and forgive sinners who trust in Jesus to die for their sins on their behalf.
The more you come to understand who Jesus is and what He accomplished, the more you can grow in understanding the depth of God’s goodness.
If God is the Greatest Good, Why Don’t Christians Live Like They Really Believe It?
Now we are getting to the “heart” of the matter so to speak. If you are a Christian, it probably wasn’t that hard to get to you to agree that God is the greatest good. You may not have thought about God in those terms before, but you agree with the concept.
But as we know, “agreeing with” and “living according to” are different things. It is much easier for us to give intellectual assent to an idea than to live consistently with that idea.
Let’s look at some reasons why we might not live like God is the greatest good.
We are Sinful
The essence of sin is rebellion against God. At the heart of this rebellion is exchanging the glory of God for something else. Man’s biggest problem is trading the goodness of God for something God has created or man has invented.
Sin essentially says “I don’t want God and His ways, I want another way instead.” This was exactly the nature of the very first sin committed by Adam and Eve. The serpent tempted them to disobey God and eat of the tree to become “like God.” Adam and Eve were not content with who they were so they chose to believe the lie that they could become like their Creator.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
– Genesis 3:4–5
They also were not content with God’s command not to eat of the tree so they disobeyed. Essentially, they traded the word of God for the word of the lying serpent. The result of this choice was utter tragedy. By trying to usurp God and His command they lost their relationship with God and became corrupt. Instead of becoming “more” God-like they became “less” human (fallen and corrupt). Unfortunately, we continue the tragic and foolish exchange of our first parents every day when we choose to trade God and His commands for something else.
The World is Sinful
Not only do we struggle against our own sinfulness, the sinful world is constantly telling us to pursue some other good instead of God. “Do this” or “buy this” or “become this” to be truly happy. At the heart of these messages is the lie that God Himself really isn’t good enough for you. You need more.
These messages are continual. No big company and no government tells its people to value the true God as the greatest good. All want your allegiance and desires directed to other things.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
– 1 John 2:15–17
Notice the source of the desires of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life. Where do they come from? Do they come from the source of all goodness? No, they come from the fallen and corrupt world.
You can’t get good things from a corrupt source. Corruption gives you corruption. Goodness gives you goodness. If you want truly good things, you must get what God gives, not what the world gives.
Satan Continues to Lie to Us
Satan’s lie worked so well with Adam and Eve he saw no need to change it. He continues to lie to all people, including Christians, tempting us to pursue anything but God. And like our first parents, too often we continue to listen to him instead of listening and obeying the Word of God. Satan works through the world and its messages to pull us away from the source of all goodness so we might eat of corruption instead.
So we too often allow these three great enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – to exert influence over us and we fail to live consistently with our belief that God is the greatest good. And we suffer the consequences of our foolish choices.
How to Start Living Like God Truly is the Greatest Good
So how do we change? How do we stop living foolishly and start seeking God as our greatest good every day?
First, let’s look at someone who really did it:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”
– Philippians 3:7-10
The Apostle Paul wrote these words while in jail for teaching people about Jesus. In reflecting on his life, he tells the Philippian church that none of the things he has lost really matters. Knowing Jesus Christ was far more important to him than social status, religious approval, or even his own freedom. Losing those things were not a big deal to him. In fact, he considered them garbage in comparison to the value of knowing and growing in his relationship with Jesus. That sold out relationship with Jesus led to him fulfilling his calling as an Apostle of Jesus Christ for the benefit of all of us.
You may think that such a kind of dedicated life is only for super spiritual people like apostles or someone who is not you. You would be wrong. God desires that all Christians live this way.
So how do we do it?
Take an honest evaluation of your heart
Consider asking yourself the following questions:
- What have you been placing above God in your thoughts, desires and actions? Why have you been doing it?
- What is your current view of God? How valuable is He to you really? One way to evaluate yourself is how often you spend time communing with Him in prayer and reading His Word. If you don’t like to talk to Him much or if you don’t like to listen to Him much, that is a fairly strong clue as to how much you value Him.
Once you’ve identified the things in your mind, heart, and actions that you have placed above God, it is time to confess those things as sin and receive God’s forgiveness in Christ. Now is not the time to be easy on yourself. Now is not the time to make excuses for your actions. God wants you to be honest with Him in confession. He knows you anyway. There is nothing you can tell Him that He already doesn’t know.
If you aren’t honest with God, you are only hurting yourself and you are keeping yourself from receiving the joy of being forgiven and seeing God’s mercy toward you in a new way. In fact, the more you understand the severity of your sin, the more you are going to understand the depth of God’s mercy and grace in forgiving you and the high cost of Christ’s death to secure that forgiveness.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
– 1 John 1:8–9
Read God’s Word Daily
When you read God’s word, it helps your mind understand God’s supreme value and the folly of chasing after things that replace Him. The Bible shows over and over again the horrendous consequences of sin and rejecting God.
Additionally, you will be reminded continually of the great love of God in sending His Son to die for your sins. You can then grow in understanding more deeply the value of His loving, merciful, and gracious nature toward you. This will hopefully help you more and more turn away from sin and pursue a deeper and deeper relationship with Him as you seek to live for His glory day in and day out.
Pray for God’s help
We need God’s help to change our hearts and help us make choices to turn away from things we use to replace Him. We need His Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts to understand better the great worth of His being and His great love for us in Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19). Heart change is hard work and takes us cooperating with God’s Spirit. We cannot possibly make these changes on our own.
Keep a watch on your heart
If you want to taste daily the goodness of God, you must make sure your heart isn’t straying toward things it shouldn’t.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
– Proverbs 4:23
It takes continual vigilance and watchfulness to keep your heart from straying. Remember, what you love controls you. If your heart is longing for things more than God, run to God and His Word for help. Don’t keep filling your heart with cheap substitutes for God, you’ll never change if you do.
Praying for God’s help and choosing not to make any changes in your life is not repentance. God will not bless you if you continue to choose to rebel against Him. The process of change in a Christian’s life is a process of cooperating with God. If you choose to ignore Him, He’ll let you. If you choose to seek Him, He will reward you.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
– Hebrews 11:6
Your heart will stray and most likely you will go after things you shouldn’t. Change quickly. Turn away from those things and resolve not to do it again.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
– Revelation 2:5
If you honestly feel that you don’t desire God much at all, you may need a new heart through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of God’s Holy Spirit making you into a new creation. If this is you, don’t despair. God wants to show His great goodness toward you by forgiving every single sin you’ve ever committed and every sin you will ever commit. How good is that?
This article is part of a series of articles designed to supplement each other. The others are below:
The Meaning of Life – Not sure what life is all about? It all starts with who God is and what He is doing in the world and seeing yourself as a part of His master plan.
Your Greatest Duty: Loving God – If God is the greatest good, we should love Him with all that we are. See how Jesus prioritized loving God above all of God’s law.
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