…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

The Good That I Would Do

By Rex Goode


If good intentions were building materials, I would like to inhabit a mighty fortress of my own making. I would be perfect, for such is my desire. I am filled with many righteous desires and plans, but they rarely become more than simple optimism. My good intentions frequently become sins of commission or sins of omission.

The commandments of God are plain and specific and readily available to those who know where to look. It isn’t difficult to know what God expects of me.

I have made it my business to know these commandments, and for most of my life, whenever I have failed to keep any of them, it has been despite a sound knowledge that what I was doing was wrong or that what I failed to do was weighty. We are taught that our knowledge of what we should do only increases our culpability.

As James informed:

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17).

Not only does my knowledge between good and evil make me more guilty, it makes me more apt to feel the burden of my sins. That being the case, why do we continue to sin, even when we are fully aware of the consequences of the sin?

Paul reasoned:

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do (Romans 7:19).

Even the magnificent apostle Paul recognized in himself the incongruity between his desires and his behavior. He further speculated:

Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me (Romans 7:20).

Some might think that Paul was making an excuse for himself. Reading it out of context with the rest of his works might even produce that conclusion, but it would be false. He was not the sort of man to excuse himself or those he taught. His rebukes were always plain and pointed.

What then, if not an excuse? How does sin “dwell” in us? If we have no power to choose good or evil, can we be held accountable for our sins? Does James’ statement become effective for us as ones who do not “know to do good” and therefore are not responsible for our sins?

As Paul was wont to say, “God forbid!” I believe that sin begins to dwell in us as a result of the fall, but also because we often nourish it through our actions. By indulging in a sin we are mildly tempted to commit, without full and complete repentance, we feed the weaknesses in us. Many people have surrendered their moral agency by indulging in sins that weaken and destroy their ability to choose. They add to the “sin that dwelleth in [them]” through careless indulgence in things that have more real power than they realize.

Soon, such people are left powerless over the temptations that beset them, because sin dwells in them. All of their righteous desires and good intentions can have no lasting effect because their hearts have become weak through self-abuse.

Some unfortunately discover that through force of will they can build a fairly sturdy fortress around themselves and can be lulled into a false sense of security from returning to their former ways. This fortress is built with the good intentions that remain in a heart that still harbors a desire for right living. Good intentions are of no lasting value though, because they are made of flawed material. Such fortifications are spiritually dangerous because their inhabitants falsely consider themselves to be sanctuaried away from evil. Even though they may enlist their friends and family to be guards upon the ramparts, they still fall because they build the fort with the enemy on the inside.

As long as a man’s heart is ill, no bastion of self-control and good intentions will ever make him safe from the disease of sin. No army of friends and family to hedge up his way against further trespasses will ever be effective until he himself has purged from his own heart the desire to sin. So often I have seen people who make assignments to their friends to check up on them, be barriers to getting into trouble, or become a surrogate conscience. While these things may work for a while and may even buy some time for real safeguards, they cannot ever keep someone out of trouble whose very nature, because of sins that weaken, makes him seek trouble.

Though it has been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, no amount of prevention can help after the enemy is already within the gates, especially if we have built our house around him. The enemy cannot be expelled from the fortress until it is known and admitted that he is there.

Once the awful realization comes that we have built ourselves a citadel of righteousness but have sealed the enemy of righteousness inside with us, we have no other choice but to do what we should have done in the first place–call upon the Lord of battles to come and save us.

He, the Lord strong and mighty in battle, is the only purifier of hearts who can overcome sin in us. He is the sure foundation, upon which if we build, our house cannot fall. He is the bulwark and the rampart, the wall and the covering, the gate and true door. He is our avenger and the only force completely able to vanquish our enemies.

Isaiah wrote:

Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you (Isaiah 35:4).

His strategy is so much more perfect than our own, because he teaches us to cleanse from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. Rather than fortifying our walls, he teaches us to fortify ourselves.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also (Matthew 23:25–26).

Prayers, reading scriptures, singing hymns are all ways we invite him in to fortify us and strengthen us. Yet, even these must all be done in the right spirit to be effective. For example, a plank in our fortress wall may be that we commit to read the scriptures every time we are tempted or thoughts to do evil enter our minds. Such a commitment is difficult to keep, because when we are tempted is the time when we want the least to read the scriptures or pray. Because the enemy is inside the fort with us, by using scriptures in this way, if we ever really get around to reading them at the times we most need them, we run the risk of our minds tying specific scriptures to specific unworthy thoughts. Certain scriptures then can become triggers that eventually lead to sin.

The better approach is to allow the scriptures to change our hearts by a consistent and daily diet of them. Thus we cleanse ourselves from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. By reading the scriptures purely for the joy of reading them, we avoid associating scripture-reading with our struggles. Rather than being distasteful medicine for ugly illnesses, they become the feast food they were intended to be.

As a medicine that we only take when we are ill, reading scriptures is merely a good intention, a “Plan B” for when “Plan A” fails. Reading them daily, feasting on them is a way of life that will change our hearts and destroy all disposition to do evil.

The same can be said for all other forms of spiritual fortification. By nourishing our spirits with those things that strengthen them, daily and consistently, we drive the enemy from us. Our hearts are cleansed and our bodies strengthened. Sin no longer dwells in us.

May we all seek the Lord and his righteousness and echo in our hearts the prayer of the psalmist who said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Psalms 51:10).”

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