Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Guilt Again

Just wrote this:

'To summarise, the Bible tells us God is more concerned about our motivation than our actual actions. Dare we say, if it comes to a choice, the Bible would rather we were holy than good. Maybe we cannot be certain but it would make a tremendous discussion question.'

Discuss please.


Jonathan Potts said...

Certainly the sermon on the mount internalises morality. We are commanded to go further than our actions in doing good and make sure our intentions, attitudes, the way we think about things are Christ-centered. Since our intentions and attitudes are what motivates us to do things, the sermon on the mount is all about moving from the Pharisaic view of morality - actions/external - towards an internal/motive/attitide-based morality. So in this sense, I have to agree with Steve.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones' classic commentry on the Sermon on the Mount explains and expounds this brilliantly - the main thrust being that the Sermon is a description of what "christian character" should be.

However, their is an external standard of goodness to which christians should seek (i.e. God's) so our motives should be towards finding out what is "God's goodness" and how do we practice it in our lives.

Nonetheless, the distinction between good and not good is not always a simple matter of general discursive concepts such as "murder is not good". So striving towards goodness is not a simple matter, even on paper! That's why it seems fairer for God to be more concerned about our motives (where we're going) than our actual attaining of goodness.

I'm thinking as I write now and It's coming out slightly garbled ... one last thing: Steve, I'm not sure I understand your distinction between "holy" and "good". Would you expound, please? And then put my blog on your sidebar. ;)

Martin said...

Jon, I must admire you persistance in asking Steve for sidebar status. Now, back to topic.

I broadly agree that god does indeed see our inward character, and cares more about that than our outward works.

As to outward works, I think as we become more like Jesus in internal character, we won't be able to help becomming more like him in our outward works. In this way we will be giving a sign to the world (who can only see the outward works) what our character is becomming more like, and who we are serving.

ie. God Rejoices in the internal character, the external works will naturally follow, the world see this and (hopefully) glorifies God.

Gill said...

I agree that it is possible to be outwardly good without being holy - if by holiness we mean our inner character including intentions and motivation.
But is it possible to be holy without being good? Surely if our inner being is good, our actions will be also.

St said...

Mr Potts. The etiquette of blogging is that you don't ask to be put on somebody's sidebar. It's their free choice. So it's a good job I'd put you there this afternoon in a short burst of sidebar updating before I got your nasty little pestering comment.

Now let's have a go at definitions. For my purposes:

Holy - pure in heart and acceptable to God.

Good - the general state of displaying the fruit of the spirit called goodness.

So King David for instance can be deemed holy and acceptable to God even though, from time to time, his actions were not good. How's that sound?

Gill said...

That works.

And the Pharisees in Jesus' time were the opposite. They did the actions, but their hearts apparently were selfish and corrupt so they were not acceptable to GOd despite their good deeds.

Kat said...

"Man looks at the outwards appearance but God looks at the heart." 'nuff said. :-)

Darren said...

mmm, so if we aren't displying 'goodness' does that mean we are displaying 'badness' or is there a neutral state?
Sorry, don't think I've added much to the discussion but it was a thought I had ;-)

Jonathan Potts said...

Cheeky, maybe, Steve, but nasty and pestering? That's a bit harsh.

Surely requests do not impede free choice? You can always ignore them. As for etiquette - why be held down by society's conventions? ;) - (that's anther comment designed to be cheeky).

As for goodness and badness - yeah, there's a sliding scale. And holiness will tend to imply that goodness will follow, but it might not always 'cos we're flawed humans.

St said...

This may be apocryphal but I remember a story of Dennis Skiner MP who once accused Nicholas Soames MP, in the House of Commons, of being a fat, pompous ass. With the Speaker demanding a withdrawal Skinner said 'In the interests of fairness I withdraw pompous'.

Jonathan, I withdraw nasty.

And yes Darren, I do think there is a neutral state. So many people exist there, assuming that the accolade 'they kept themselvs to themselves' wil do as a eulogy. It won't. Do-gooder should not be an insult. Let's go out there and be do gooders, goody-two shoes, too good to be true etc.

We have a mission. Then people may ask us to give account of the hope we have in us.

I now have to do word verification on my own blog, which sucks frankly.

Jonathan Potts said...

Thanks for withdrawing "nasty". I guess "pestering" and "lack of etiquette" are fair points. Sorry if my original comment was found to be offensive. It was unintentional - perhaps a topical example of "bad" but not "bad motives"...?

...and yeah, too right we should be do-gooders. May I add that we should be "moralists" - with the caveat that "moralist" means "having morals; keeping and upholding moral standards" rather than "imposing our moral views on others". And reclaim these all words form their bad connotations!

Caroline said...

There's a blog around called "Waving or Drowning", Mike Todd who runs it describes his journey from an emphasis on believing to doing, following Jesus. He uses an idea from Dallas Willard, I think, that we are apprentices of Jesus.

I wonder if that sums up the difference between holiness and being good; one is on the way toward (following Jesus) the other is a current practice.

Does any of that make sense? Sorry if it doesn't.

Jonathan Potts said...

Yes it does - as the Super Furry Animals once said "it's not where you're from, it's not where your at, it's not where you've been, it's where you're between". Great words from a great band.

Kierkegaard saw the whole Christian life as "becoming a Christian" - a moving towards. There is no "being a Christian" 'cos that means you've stopped - just a becoming. I'd implore anyone whose into discussions like this to get yerselves into Kierkegaard - he's a thinker I return to time and again on theology and Christian life.

St said...

I understand what you're saying, and to be honest who'd pick a fight with Kierkeggard, but the amazing thing about grace and the gospel is that you can say 'I am a Christian.' You don't work towards it in stages like Buddhists do:

'The mystery man came over
And he said you're out of sight
He said for a nominal service charge
I could reach nirvanna tonight.'

(It's Frank Zappa who couldn't spell, not me)

We strive for maturity in Christ but we are all fully Christian now. The rest is service.

Did we lose track of guilt somewhere?

Jonathan Potts said...

In the sense that our holiness is gained through accepting God's forgiveness through Christ then yes, we are fully Christians. In the sense that we are all still flawed and as a response to our forgiveness are called to strive towards righteousness with the help of the Holy Spirit to mould and shape us, we are becoming Christians.

I think it's one of those apparent paradoxes that comes from playing two different language games at once. Christianity is both a "being" and "becoming" depending what angle you look at it from.

It's always a bit hard putting theology in a metaphysical framework, or using space-time-bound language to describe the transcendent. That's why we need for a many-angled approach to theology - which may apparently contradict one another if not understood contextually. And hence also the need for art and metaphor as well as logic and science in our theology (as we find in the Bible). Gosh, I'm starting to ramble again...

...and such rambling means we end up, 14 comments down, well away from our original topic. Oh, well.

Caroline said...

ok, returning to guilt..

and holiness

every (or most) morning(s) I answer a question during Celtic Morning Prayer:

"Do you seek [the Lord your God] with all your heart?"

and I answer

"Amen, Lord have mercy"

we are fallen, and so the holiness is an aspiration

our failure to achieve it a grief

and so I say "Lord have mercy"

and after a day of wasting my time, I need to say "Lord have mercy" for that,

I wonder if there's a trace of guilt in fed upness?

Martin said...

This brings me back to thinking about the beatitudes. especially the first four. We should recognise our poor spiritual state, mourn it, and be meek, hungering for more. If we do this, god promises not just mercy but blessings. And so our character changes too. It's great to have a God who want to give so much blessing to us who don't deserve it!

(note: some of that might have been nicked off what another martin said about this, but it did strike me in a new way, and I think it is relavent here).

Simon said...

Why don't you all make your own judgements on what is good or holy, rather than trying to second guess what some invented God figure wants you to be?

St said...

Hi Simon. Welcome to the show. I think you are witnessing us making our own judgements. You can't second guess God if he does exist let alone if he doesn't. We just happen to believe, in many and differing ways, that God is. We find the Bible rather helpful. We'd explain why if you'd like us to but probably all in different ways.

Simon said...

Hi st. If you are making your own judgements, why do you need a god? Isn't the whole point of following a god to do what he says and not to merely interpret things in your own way?

Many of the problems (ie wars and persecutions) with religions are brought about by people with different interpretations falling out.

As far as evidence for the existence of gods, I haven't found any.

St said...

People wanting to follow this train of the conversation (I think we've probably done guilt for now and anyway I've submitted the article; next topic will be 'hurt') need to follow the link to Simon's interesting blog. It's called Life, the Universe and Everything and is at